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Non-antibiotic alternatives may effectively treat digital dermatitis

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 16 July 2018
Spraying feet off in the milking parlour

As dairy farmers and hoof trimmers look to replace antibiotics in their arsenal in the battle against digital dermatitis, alternative products are emerging on the market; however, there is limited to no evidence regarding their effectiveness.

That lack of information is what motivated Casey Jacobs at the University of Calgary Department of Production Animal Health to conduct a study of two commercially available topical applications and their ability to both clinically regress active lesions to a non-active state and prevent recurring cases of active digital dermatitis lesions.



This study was published in June 2018 in the Journal of Dairy Science, and Jacobs recently shared the details of her work and how it impacts dairy farmers with Progressive Dairyman.

Describe the treatments used, including the active ingredients.


(AgroChem Inc.,
Saratoga Springs, New York)

Ingredients: Proprietary blend containing 1.5 Pentanedial, alcohol ethoxylate, propylene glycol, xantham gum, tocopherol (Vitamin E), methyl salicylate, water

Directions for use: Product is applied directly to hoof area. Apply 3 to 5 millilitres, once or twice either on the same or consecutive days. For best results: Remove excess mud and manure prior to application. Do not wrap hoof. (Patent Pending No. 61/200,367)

Intra HoofSol Liquid
(Diamond Hoof Care Ltd.,
Intracare BV, Veghel, The Netherlands)


Ingredients: Active ingredients: copper sulfate pentahydrate 15.2 percent, zinc sulphate monohydrate 11.4 percent, aloe vera 6.4 percent. Non-active ingredients: distilled water, citric acid monohydrate, xanthan gum, lutein as colouring

Directions for use: Use the headlocks in the feeding alley or the milking parlour to securely hold the animals. Works great in stanchion barns as well. If necessary, rinse the hooves and interdigital spaces with water. Premium coverage and results: Apply weekly at 50 percent solution.

Optional alternative: Use a reduced dilution (20 to 40 percent Hoof-Sol Liquid) for weekly follow-up sessions to maintain hoof health. Spray the liquid on the back and in the interdigital spaces of the hind legs.

Tetracycline 250
(250 milligrams per gram)
(Vetoquinol Inc., Lavaltrie, Quebec)

Description: Tetracycline HCI is an antibiotic similar to oxytetracycline and chlortetracycline in bacterial spectrum. Tetracycline is rapidly absorbed and effective in the treatment of many diseases due to gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, spirochetes, rickettsia and some chlamydia. DIN 00527777.

Product was mixed with 0.9 percent saline solution to obtain a solution consisting of 2 to 3 grams tetracycline per 5 millilitres.


0.9 percent saline solution was used as a negative control.

How did these treatments affect digital dermatitis clinical cure rates one week after treatment?

JACOBS: One week after the first treatment, the proportion of active lesions (M1, M2, M4.1) that clinically cured (defined as a transition from active [M1, M2, M4.1] to non-active [M0, M3, M4] stages) was 33.5 percent for saline, 68.8 percent for tetracycline solution, 52.2 percent for HealMax and 79 percent for HoofSol.

What changes were observed in clinical cure rate and lesion recurrence seven weeks after the initial treatment?

JACOBS: HoofSol and tetracycline solution were significantly better at inducing clinical cure in the first week after treatment; however, in subsequent weeks there was no significant difference between the treatments. Lesion recurrence was equivalent among all treatments at all weeks and ranged from 4 to 12 percent of lesions recurring (active lesions [M1, M2, M4.1] developing from chronic stages [M3, M4]).

What are some tips for how to incorporate digital dermatitis identification and treatment and feet washing into the milking routine?

JACOBS: Early identification of active digital dermatitis lesions (especially M2 lesions) and prompt treatment can improve the success of healing. In fact, with early treatment, M2 lesions are more likely to heal into M0 (healthy feet) as opposed to M4 (chronic lesions) if treatment is delayed.

Spraying feet off in the milking parlour is a great way to detect M2 lesions, and these cows can either be sorted out for treatment in the hoof trimming chute (ideal), or a topical product can be sprayed on the lesion. The results of this research indicate even hosing the feet off in the parlour can help to clinically cure digital dermatitis lesions even without topical treatment.

Hosing feet in the parlour improves hygiene by reducing caked-on manure, thus improving contact with the footbath product. Digital dermatitis bacteria are anaerobic (live in the absence of oxygen), so the cleaner the feet, the less opportunity for bacteria to invade.

How can topical treatments and feet cleaning be applied in milking systems other than parlours?

JACOBS: Topical treatments and feet cleaning can be applied in other milking systems, typically in the form of a backpack sprayer or other applicator while animals are in tiestalls or in headlocks at the feedbunk. Some robotic milking systems also have automatic feet sprayers to clean feet while cows are in the robot.

Backpack sprayers are also a great option for young replacement stock when facilities are not designed for footbathing these groups.

Based on the outcomes of this trial, what is the take-home message you have for dairy farmers regarding digital dermatitis treatment and prevention?

JACOBS: Prevention and treatment must go hand-in-hand to most effectively control digital dermatitis. The results of this research indicate even hosing the feet off in the parlour can help to clinically cure digital dermatitis lesions, even without topical treatment.

Footbaths are a common strategy for prevention, but M2 lesions must also be identified on a regular basis (ideally, weekly) and treated promptly to increase the chance these lesions will completely heal (to M0).

Hosing feet off in the parlour will improve hygiene, increase the contact between the feet and the footbath product as well as allow for identification of new lesions. Ideally, lesions identified should be treated as soon as possible.  end mark

PHOTO: Spraying feet off in the milking parlour is a great way to detect digital dermatitis lesions, and these cows can either be sorted out for treatment or a topical product can be sprayed on the lesion. Photo by Mike Dixon.

Peggy Coffeen
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