PhD iCase: Preventing Digital Dermatitis Transmission on Farms

Amy G Photo 

 Research Partner: University of Liverpool

 Start and End Date: October 2017 - September 2021

 PhD Student: Amy Gillespie



Towards Preventing Transmission of Digital Dermatitis on Dairy Farms

Digital dermatitis is a widespread infectious disease that causes lameness due to painful ulcerative lesions between the heel bulbs. Despite over forty years of clinical experience with digital dermatitis, our current prevention and control methods are inadequate. As a result, this disease continues to pose a significant threat to production and to animal welfare.

Bacteria known as treponemes are recognised as being important in the initiation and progression of this disease. They have been identified on hoof trimming equipment; therefore, lack of hygiene during foot trimming poses an obvious risk for transmission between animals and farms. This project will develop protocols for effective disinfection of hoof trimming equipment.

The project will also look at reasons why this disease responds poorly to current treatment and prevention methods. It is well known that in man treponemes can form biofilms, which are specialised communities of bacteria, commonly seen as plaque on teeth. Cooperation and communication between bacteria in these communities enables them to resist disinfectants and other antimicrobials. We propose that similar treponeme biofilms develop in digital dermatitis treponemes and, consequently, new approaches to treatment are needed. 

The project has the following goals:

  1. Develop a protocol for effective disinfection of hoof trimming tools to prevent transmission of digital dermatitis during foot care.
  2. Investigate formation of biofilms by digital dermatitis treponemes.
  3. Test novel ways of disrupting these biofilms using biocides that prevent communication between bacteria.
  4. Research whether such biocides can be included in cattle feed to reduce digital dermatitis severity and spread.