Careful physical examination of a crippled cow or bull with a lame foot includes picking up the foot with a rope and washing and examining it carefully between the toes for a foot crack, corn, swelling, heat, and discharge. Professional assistance is necessary to differentiate other abnormal conditions of the foot. Unobservable problems inside the foot are bruises, abscesses, fractures, and foot founder, or laminitis. Of course, the lameness may be related to long toes as well as joint inflammation of the leg, including the hip on the rear and shoulder on the front.
Foot crack (web tear): In the absence of a corn or foot rot, a draining infection with a foul odor, but swelling and heat of the foot are observed, the web of skin between the toes is likely deeply cracked into sensitive tissue. Walking on rough terrain, or the weight placed on the foot when bulls mount for breeding, commonly spreads the toes widely apart and causes the skin to tear. Also, long toes predispose the likelihood of excessive spreading of toes. The damaged tissue must heal inside out. To prevent further tearing, the cow or bull must be confined for a few weeks to limit walking, and the toes should be trimmed and taped together.
Foot rot (necrotic pododermatitis): In the absence of a foot crack, in which the web of skin between the toes is not deeply cracked, but a draining infection with a foul odor is observed, a soil-borne bacterial disease of the foot is likely. In addition to a hot, swollen, and painful foot with a dead odor, fever and loss of appetite and body weight are normally observed. During warm, wet weather, the bacteria in mud mixed with manure commonly gain entry through minute cracks and abrasions of the skin between the toes and heel bulb, causing swelling and dead tissue. The infection may spread to the skin of the pastern and fetlock and to bone joints inside the foot. Since the pus discharge contains bacteria and serves as a source of new infections, the cow or bull should be segregated from the rest of the herd for proper treatment. To prevent occurrence of more cases, corrections of the unsanitary conditions are essential.
Corn (interdigital hyperplasia): A painful and hard tumor-like, vertical mass is observed in the web of skin between the toes. Stretched skin folds in splay-toed, heavy breeds are considered to cause development of the scar tissue. Treatment includes surgical removal and toes bandaged closely together.
Fescue toxicity: In areas of the country where fescue is a common pasture grass, a condition called “fescue foot,” or fescue toxicity, may occur. This is caused by an endophyte that grows within the cells of the plant and produces a toxin. If the cattle are located in a fescue area, contact your local county Cooperative Extension educator or your veterinarian for information about reducing loss from fescue toxicity.