Concentrated Copper Sulphate Reduces Digital Dermatitis

Footbathing in a five per cent compared to a two per cent copper sulphate solution is more effective at reducing digital dermatitis when incidence levels are very high, although at moderate levels a two per cent solution is just as effective, concludes research led by Marijntje Speijers from Hillsborough’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.
calendar icon 11 January 2011
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It is more effective to treat herds with a high prevalence of digital dermatitis with a 5 per cent rather than a 2 per cent copper sulphate solution in a weekly footbathing regime. That was the key finding of a trial, led by Marijntje Speijers from Hillsborough’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.

“It appears that when the prevalence of digital dermatitis (DD) is medium – around 25 per cent of the herd with active digital dermatitis lesions – fortnightly footbathing with 5 per cent or 2 per cent copper sulphate will control the disease,” she told delegates at this year’s British Society of Animal Science’s annual conference, held at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Digital dermatitis is a world-wide problem in dairy herds that accounts for between 20 and 25 per cent of all cases of lameness. And it is not only a major welfare issue in dairy herds, but it also has serious financial implications.

“Each case of digital dermatitis is estimated to cost between £75 and £82 in the UK,” said Dr Speijers.

Often the most practical solution for controlling dermatitis is group topical therapy, in other words footbathing. And for this to be successful, an effective antibacterial product needs to be used. Neither antibiotics nor formalin can be recommended for use in footbaths, according to Dr Speijers.

“This is because antibiotics are expensive and their long-term use may lead to increased antibiotic resistance in cattle, and because formalin is both toxic and carcinogenic.

“Copper sulphate solutions are used extensively in footbaths for cattle, but long-term use may have adverse effects on the environment through increasing soil copper levels. So the aim of our study was to compare the effectiveness of different footbathing regimes using different copper sulphate concentrations in the treatment of digital dermatitis.”

Lactating cows from the experimental herd at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute were allocated to one of four treatment regimes: weekly footbathing with 5 per cent copper sulphate; weekly footbathing with 2 per cent copper sulphate; fortnightly footbathing with 5 per cent copper sulphate; or fortnightly footbathing with 2 per cent copper sulphate.

Cows allocated to the weekly footbathing regime had, on average, a high prevalence of active DD at the start of the trial – more than 60 per cent - whereas cows allocated to fortnightly footbathing had a lower prevalence of active DD, at less than 25 per cent.

During the seven-week study period, the cows walked through a water bath and then the allocated footbath solution on four consecutive milkings (weekly or fortnightly, respectively). And digital dermatitis was scored on the hind claws of all animals during milking on a weekly basis using a 5-point nominal scale.

“And for cows on the weekly footbathing regime, in other words those with high levels of DD, the prevalence of active DD lesions decreased faster when the 5 per cent rather than the 2 per cent copper sulphate solution was used,” said Dr Speijers.

“Improved healing of DD lesions was also shown with the weekly 5 per cent rather than 2 per cent copper sulphate footbathing regime. And for cows on the fortnightly footbathing regime, with low levels of DD, there was no significant difference in number of active lesions, or in healing of lesions, between the 2 per cent and 5 per cent copper sulphate solutions.”

Full details: Speijers MHM, Baird LG, Logue DN, O’Connell NE: “Effectiveness of different footbath solutions in the treatment of digital dermatitis in dairy cows.”

January 2011
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