Rain, rain,... why all at once? Part One

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We've all heard the saying, "Rain, Rain, go away, come again some other day."  It is usually a taboo saying in Texas during the hot summer months that generally bring scorched earth and temperatures that leave your car's steering wheel molten lava ready to strip you of your finger prints.  This year, however, the rain has been coming all at once.  We will have weeks of nothing but mosquitoes followed by a wet deluge that has me thinking about opening an air boat business for the morning commute.  Water is filling reservoirs, homes, pastures and breaking hearts.  With the Tax Day flood that occurred in the Houston area fresh in my mind, I struggle to think of all the troubles that Louisiana is facing.  The rising waters threaten not only the people's lives and homes, it also hurts countless animals.  Even if your area is not being flashed on the news due to historic flooding, a wet pasture and constant rain can cause a perfect environment for bacteria to have a field day.  I wanted to discuss two issues in this two part series that our four-legged livestock will be facing with the current wet and sticky environment: Hoof Rot and Rain Rot.  

First we will discuss Hoof Rot.  Hoof Rot, also known under the alias of Foot Rot, Pododermatitis, or Thrush for horses, can be a major issue for all of the livestock standing in pastures that have constant puddles, or standing under trees all together in a mud-manure mixture.  This highly infectious condition is most often found in sheep, goats, and cattle.  It is called Hoof Rot because the microbes do just that, rot away at the area between the two toes of the affected animal.  The microbes that are involved thrive in an anaerobic environment, meaning they like places without oxygen (i.e. covered in water or mud).  These gram-negative anaerobes and pyogenes cause pus and reduce the amount of oxygen in surrounding tissues, thereby creating a constantly pleasing environment for all of their non-oxygen loving friends.  When the tissue between the toes of split-hoofed animals or the central sulcus (a small indentation in the middle of the frog) in a horse's hoof is softened by moisture or damaged by the acid in manure, it is easily scraped or punctured.  Once the softened skin is scraped it puts up a large "open" sign for easy entry of bacteria.  The easiest way to tell if your goat, sheep, or cattle are suffering from Hoof Rot is you will notice lameness.  Your livestock might also exhibit elevated body temperature, swelling of the foot, and separation of the skin. Ulcers, abscesses and abrasions can also be a sign of Hoof Rot as secondary bacterial infections commonly accompany Hoof Rot. The pain and lameness response is due to the animal's immune response system causing inflammation and swelling to try and treat the rot. Horses will not always exhibit lameness with Thrush.  It is more common to notice an unusual or nasty smell when lifting their hoof for cleaning, and they may be sensitive to using a hoof pick around the softened frog.  

The good news is that the organisms responsible for causing Hoof Rot and Thrush are very responsive to antibiotics.  Treating Hoof Rot begins by cleaning the infected area with trimming away the rotten foot tissue.   Probably best to refer to a veterinarian if you aren't really practiced in this art of trimming away dead things...After the trimming, it is suggested that animals be walked through a zinc sulfate foot bath solution followed by a period to allow the solution to dry on hooves.  The foot bath is not drinkable, so please don't place it where they are likely to take a little swig.  Because of the high infectiousness of the bacteria, all trimming equipment should be disinfected and animals should be separated from the rest of the herd  until healed to minimize spreading.  Many times animals will be placed on systemic antibiotics to help the infection disappear.  

For Thrush, depending on the severity (always check with your vet!), you can use a variety of over-the-counter treatments such as soaking a cotton pad with Betadine and gently applying it to the central sulcus of the frog.  Horse's feet should be kept dry during treatment ideally in a dry stall or arena.  Thrush takes time to heal, usually up to a week or more, so be patient and diligent.

In conclusion, after all these rainy weeks, to help prevent Hoof Rot and Thrush you can follow these few suggestions:

  • Check and clean your horse's hooves everyday to make sure the frog is allowed to dry and maintain its structural integrity.  
  • Frequent monitoring and trimming of toes will help prevent Hoof Rot and a litany of other foot problems. As a side note, trimming hooves after a particularly rainy time is easier as the hoof walls are softened.  
  • Provide rock piles and other abrasive surfaces to allow goats and sheep to climb or play on to help wear on hooves.  
  • Keep hay and water in a dry area that is kept clean of most manure and urine build-up.

Next blog we will talk about Rain Rot; symptoms, treatment, and prevention.  Thanks for reading and let us know if you have any experience with Hoof Rot.  

Written by Kara Grimes

All information was gathered from research of credible sources such as Perdue University, NC State University, and Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service.  It is not meant to act in place of a licensed Veterinarian.  Ropes for Less has no affiliation with any of the above mentioned schools and always encourages seeing a licensed Veterinarian before treating.

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