Foul in the foot

Foul-in-the-foot occurs when the skin in between the claws becomes damaged and a bacterium called Fusobacterium necrophorum infects the soft tissue between the digits, although other bacterial species have been linked to the condition. A painful swelling of the foot between the claws and around the adjacent coronary band occurs rapidly and the inflammation may extend to the pastern and fetlock. Other symptoms caused by the illness include pain caused by the pressure of the swelling, severe lameness, fever, and a reduction in milk yield.

More than a single foot is rarely involved at the same time in mature cows but foul can occasionally develop in several feet in calves. As with most foot conditions, the hind limbs are more likely to be affected. The claws are typically markedly separated, with the swelling uniformly distributed between them. As necrosis of the skin progresses, sloughing of tissue and the discharge of pus is likely to follow, and the condition produces a characteristic odour.

Open lesions can be infected with secondary pathogens, complicating treatment and recovery. Severe cases can result in permanent damage to milk yield in the current lactation even if the foot recovers.


Good hygiene is essential, particularly where any members of the herd are suffering with the condition as it is infectious. Foul-in-the-foot bacteria may be more common around drinking troughs and in gateways where small sharp stone are present, which can puncture the skin between the claws allowing infection to enter. Effective slurry management is paramount, and regular foot bathing in a chemical solution such as dilute formalin or copper sulphate will help to control the bacteria responsible for infection. It may be advisable to isolate affected animals.


Antibiotic treatment will be necessary; the lesion must be cleaned, inspected and a topical dressing and bandaging applied and replaced on a daily basis. 'Super' foul, which is a more systemic form of the illness, may be more resistant to antibiotic therapy. Other foot conditions that can cause similar swelling to foul-in-the-foot should be discounted, and veterinary attention must be sought if the case is severe or is non-responsive to antibiotics.

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