Foot bathing in the hoof health management

Results from a study of a new foot bath solution.


Hoof diseases and lameness in bovines account for a big portion of the income loss due to diseases. Various management tools are available that could help reduce these losses. Hoof problems during the animal's productive life are mostly related to infectious diseases, feeding, housing including the type of floor surface and improper hoof trimming practices and combinations of these factors. Foot bathing is t he most commonly used method in the attempt to prevent hairy warts and other hoof diseases. There is a lack of well documented and reported trials under farm conditions that show the effect of foot bathing when accompanied by proper hoof trimming. Additionally, the available trial data does not always address the full range of foot diseases. Concern has been expressed (4) about procedures and products used with foot baths and that any perceived benefits must be weighed against direct economic costs, potential risk to human and animal health and environmental considerations (7). Foot bathing procedure recommendations including product selection, product c oncentration, frequency of use, and number of cow passes before cleaning and refilling are rarely supported by documented clinical trials. The objective of this study was to evaluate the overall effect of a well maintained foot bathing solution, containing no antibiotic, heavy metals or other environmentally hazardous substances on the health and condition of the hooves.

Material and Method

The trial was performed on a dairy farm located in Mt. Vernon , WA ( USA ). The target population of this study consisted of 190 dairy cows, Holstein breed, that were milked twice a day in a double ten herringbone parlor. The foot bath solution used prior to the trial consisted of 25 pounds of copper sulfate diluted in 50Gal of water. The housing consisted of free stalls with kiln dried shavings as bedding, cleaned every two days and concrete floors. There were no changes in the feeding or management practices throughout the length of the trial. Weather during the trial had the average rainy days and temperature found in this region of WA in late winter and spring. A 55 gallon footbath was located in the alley at the exit of the parlor, preceded by a wash bath containing fresh water. The foot bath containing Double Action ® (DeLaval) at 5% and the wash bath were dumped and recharged daily after all 190 cows passed through the bath.

Hooves were evaluated at the start and the end of the trial for incidence of hoof disease. The pre-trial protocol consisted of an examination of all the cows of the herd and trimming as needed. The cows walked through the foot bath solution once a day from Monday through Friday after the evening milking. During the weekends both baths remained clean and empty in their place. The length of the trial was 12 weeks beginning in January 2003 and finishing in April 2003. Cows were surveyed again at the end of the trial and the results recorded. Both surveys were performed by a veterinarian skilled at evaluating hoof condition with the assistance of a professional hoof trimmer. . All the cows in the herd were scored but for analysis purposes only those that stayed in the herd throughout the trial period were included in the final results. Temperature and weather data was collected during the course of the trial. Statistical analysis was done using Chi Square test with Statistica software


Heel erosions, hemorrhages and digital dermatitis were the most prevalent hoof problems at the start of the trial. A total of 37.5% of hooves were determined to be unhealthy. Foot bathing with 5% Double Action for 12 weeks reduced the number of cows affected with digital dermatitis and interdigital dermatitis . A s ignificant reduction in hooves affected by Heel Erosion , Hemorrhages and Ulcers was observed . These results are summarized in the chart below. The total prevalence of hoof problems was reduced to 17.9%. Weather conditions, temperature and rain, during the trial were average for the season.









% of hooves


% of hooves



Heel Erosion (HE)







Hemorrhages (H)







Digital Dermatitis (DD)







Interdigital Dermatitis (IDD)







Foot Rot (FR)







White Line Disease (WLD)







Ulcer (U)







Healthy Hooves















Previous trials (3,6) have shown that Double Action is effective at reducing the incidence of Digital Dermatitis in herds with a high incidence of DD. The reduction in the prevalence of Digital dermatitis shows that even in a herd with a low number of hooves affected (5%) there is a good chance of reducing the incidence of this disease. In the current trial, Double Action helped control a range of hoof problems when used in a well maintained foot bath. Prior to the trial, hoof care on this farm consisted of foot bathing with copper sulfate three times a week. The improved hoof health is attributed to the specific preventative product used as well as the implementation of an improved foot bathing regime.

The diseases surveyed could be divided into infectious diseases and other hoof problems.

The infectious agents responsible for Digital and Interdigital Dermatitis are also believed to play a role in the etiology of Heel Erosion (1, 5). The significant reduction in the number of hooves affected with Heel Erosion along with the reduction in the number of DD lesions would tend to support that belief.

Sub solar hemorrhaging, White line disease (WLD), and sole ulcers are primary indicators of a previous laminitis. While a nutrition factor like rumen acidosis seems to be a key factor in the development of laminitis, different observations suggest that additional factors must be involved (2). During this trial there was a significant reduction in the prevalence of sub solar hemorrhaging, WLD and sole ulcers. Although there was no change in the feeding routine or diet during the trial, no specific nutritional parameters were monitored and therefore we cannot determine how nutrition impacted on this reduction. Locally acting factors influence the hoof directly. Overgrowth of the horn is a result of environmental factors exacerbated by predisposing disease factors (2). Functional hoof trimming restores the normal shape of the claw and the angle of the toe and equalizes weight distribution between the two claws. Claw trimming does not replace other appropriate disease control measures but it is an important component indicating that hoof trimming probably played a significant role in reducing the level of sub solar hemorrhaging, WLD and sole ulcers during this trial .


The results of this study show that Double Action is effective at improving overall hoof condition when used 5 days per week in a herd with a relatively high incidence of hoof disease. Additional studies are suggested to determine if this product can be used less frequently as part of a hoof health maintenance program. Specific recommendations on frequency and concentration for other hoof bath agents like copper sulfate or formaldehyde would need to be determined through clinical trials.


The authors would like to thank Joe LeClair, LeClair Dairy and Vince Miller for their help in this trial.


  1. Bargai, U: Digital Dermatitis, Interdigital dermatitis and Heel Erosion – Are these separate diseases?, Proceedings of the 10 th International Symposium on Lameness in Ruminants, Lucerne , Switzerland , 1998
  2. Greenough, PR., et al : Lameness in Cattle. 3 rd (ed), WB Saunders Co., Philadelphia , PA , 1997
  3. Hammock, N., Hammock farms, VA, Personal communication. 2003
  4. Hoblet, K.: Foot baths: separating truth from fiction and clinical impressions, 12 th International Symposium on Lameness in Ruminants, Orlando , Florida , 2002
  5. Toussaint, Raven E: Cattle foot care and claw trimming, Ipswich, Farming Press, UK , 1989
  6. Seymour, J, et al. Foot bathing in the management of Digital Dermatitis. Proceedings 12 th International Symposium on Lameness in Ruminants. 2002
  7. Zemljic, B, Digital Dermatitis: Where we are after 30 years. Proceedings 12 th International Symposium on Lameness in Ruminants. 2002

Related Links:

University of Alberta hoof health information