Some of the most destructive hoof conditions are easily controlled with a well-run footbath.  These are digital dermititis (heal warts), footrot, and thin soles.  A good footbath can harden hooves and reduce the incidence of sole ulcers, sole bruising,  and infections caused by sharp objects penetrating the sole of the hoof.  Other serious conditions can be made more manageable when feet are hard, such as laminitis and white line disease. Even for these systemic type hoof conditions, a well-run footbath program can be a critically important management decision.



Heel warts are the most destructive hoof disease on modern dairies.

Foot wart lesions look like raised, red and yellow patches and are usually located at the back of the foot above the heel. They are particularly painful and prone to bleeding when manipulated. Mature lesions are larger- up to two inches across, and usually raised with long, brown or grayish-black tufts of hair-like projections along the surface. They have a “hairy wart” appearance. The hairs along the lesions are usually “true hairs”. The lesions can persist for many months. They may regress with dry weather.

This disease is probably caused by a spirochete bacterium and it appears to be very contagious. The high morbidity of herds contracting this disease, as well as observations that greater than 90 percent of the lesions are highly responsive to antibiotics suggest an infectious agent.
Environment may predispose animals to the foot wart agent. Examples would be wet free stalls, poorly drained lots etc. Spirochetes have been found in digits of healthy cows, in affected herds, and in herds without incidence of digital dermatitis. It appears possible that many animals can be infected with the organism but show no evidence of lameness or lesions. When a specific stress or environmental component triggers the disease, it can then spread very rapidly.*

Regular exposure to formaldehyde or copper-sulfate is the best way to boost hoof defense against infection. The Bovistride Rx system offers the best way of accomplishing this.
For an already established outbreak of warts, a very strong attack must be used to beat them.

*V. A. Ishler and D. R. Wolfgang, “Prevention and Control of Foot Problems in Dairy Cows” (University Park: Penn State Cooperative Extension, n.d.).



Thin soles are caused by over-trimming or over-wearing of the hoof. Over-trimming speaks for itself…. the hoof-trimmer needs some more experience or training.
Over-wear is more complicated.

The following factors relate:

  • New concrete. If concrete is new it is more abrasive. On large dairies in the rainy seasons, large numbers of animals can be lost due to feet wearing through. Consider laying rubber on all walkways.
  • Poor diet. Certain additions to the diet can help toughen soles and Zinc, in an available metabolic form is thought to be a valuable tool in the effort to keep cows feet healthy. Zinc does not seem to work well as a footbath additive in any form, however.
  • Wet conditions. Water in the cows environment, especially when there is no dry place to escape it, causes rapid softening of the horn material of the hoof. The softening happens in a matter of hours and the hoof becomes dramatically more susceptible to wear on concrete. A well run copper-sulfate footbath can reduce or eliminate the problem. Managing a copper sulfate footbath is extremely difficult.  The copper is deactivated by exposure to dairy cow urine and manure and must be continually reacidified as animals soil the bath.  BRx is the only system that can maintain copper activity without compromising other aspects of hoof health and without using huge quantities of copper sulfate.

Footrot is an infectious condition which must be treated promptly and failure to do so can severely affect the animals chances of recovery.  Footrot is easily prevented with a well-run copper sulfate footbath.  If footrot is established it will require a systemic antibiotic.  It does not respond well to topical treatment.



Although a footbath does not treat laminitis directly, it is important to maintain hoof hardness so that a hoof that becomes affected by this condition can be helped by blocking. Blocking is usually applied to the foot opposite from the affected one to prevent excessive wear on that side. This excessive wear occurs as the animal stops using the painful laminitis foot and the oppsite one then has to work harder resulting in more wear and the danger of the sole becoming too thin on that side.  Keeping feet hard is always good practice on large dairies for this and other reasons.

Laminitis is an aseptic inflammation of the dermal layers inside the foot. There is usually some inflammation and sensitivity above the hoof and around the coronary band.

General symptoms of an animal contracting laminitis consist of moving very stiffly and “crampy”. Standing on toes on the edge of stalls is very typical of a stance to alleviate pain.

Characteristics include sole hemorrhages and yellowish discoloration. Often, a white line separation (juncture between the sole and the outer keratinized wall) may be apparent. Double soles and heel cracks may be present. However, an animal may exhibit pain with no visible or apparent reason for lameness within a given foot.

There is no one specific cause and laminitis may be associated with several, largely interdependent factors. Nutritional management is normally considered a key component in the development of laminitis, especially the feeding of increased fermentable carbohydrates, which leads to rumen acidosis.

Metabolic and digestive disorders can be predisposing factors. Hormonal changes associated with parturition and the lactation cycle can impact certain physiological changes. Infectious diseases, such as mastitis, metritis, and foot rot can impose specific endotoxic insults.

Environmental aspects, such as hard surfaces, lack of or little use of bedding, and lack of or excessive exercise on undesirable surfaces can predispose animals to mechanical damage.

V. A. Ishler and D. R. Wolfgang, “Prevention and Control of Foot Problems in Dairy Cows” (University Park: Penn State Cooperative Extension, n.d.).