Foot Bathing

Various management tools are available to help reduce lameness and the losses resulting from it. as documented above. Infectious lameness, however, is particularly hard to combat. Prevention of infectious lameness is far better. cheaper. and more successful than treatment and foot bathing is recommended for the control and prevention of infectious hoof disease.

In outbreaks of disease, foot bathing is necessary to prevent animals from becoming chronically infected. But foot baths should always be used routinely as a measure to control infectious hoof diseases and not to cure them, just as teat dips are used daily to control mastitis. Foot baths are not a substitute for good hygiene management, but they do assist in the control of the environmental factors that make hoof management so complex.

Footbaths and solutions

Footbaths are most commonly used to prevent and control DD. The most widely used formulations including formalin solution (5-10 percent), zinc or copper sulphate and quaternary ammonium compounds, or other commercial multi-compound products, in various strengths. Veterinarians sometimes also prescribe antibiotics for use in foot baths, but antibiotic treatment is expensive; it involves a milk withdrawal period and it is thought that the bacteria that cause DD) can become immune to it, so it is generally advised to only use antibiotics minimally.

Some footbath solutions have drawbacks and should be used carefully. Formalin is banned in many countries as it is known to have carcinogenic properties and is very unpleasant to handle; use of this product is therefore not recommended. Heavy metals like copper and zinc salts are also rapidly becoming more tightly controlled due to potential damage both to animals (copper toxicity of ruminants) and the environment, as these substances build up and are completely non-biodegradable. To prevent hoof diseases effectively, while limiting the effect on the environment, biodegradable hoof care solutions are generally recommended.



The best location for a footbath is in the exit lane from the parlour or AMS, with enough space to prevent a build-up of cows. In an AMS, the best position is at least one cow length after the exit of the milking station in order to minimise exit times. Foot baths can also be placed between the feeding and resting area in these set-ups if well defined and separated by one-way gates. It is also possible to put a two-way separation gate at the exit of AMS. One way the cows can exit normally, the other way would take them through a foot bath. With this gate. the farmer can establish an automatic foot bathing routine for his cows and can keep it clean on the days its not used. Most baths are singular, walk-through style, but a wash bath can also be used in a twin footbath set-up.

Its important that footbaths are placed in a well lit area, alley ways are kept clean and dry and baths are either regularly cleaned or cows can go via another route when the baths are not in use. Cows often have to walk through an empty bath and, if manure is allowed to collect here, it will become a slurry pit and a reservoir for disease. An alternative option is a plastic or fibreglass footbath that can be lifted out of the way when not in use, or an automated footbath that is flushed out automatically at pre-set times during the day to eliminate manure. It is also important to ensure that the area has good drainage, otherwise manure, water and footbath solution may collect in puddles.

Foot baths should be at least two cow strides long, as every hoof should ideally enter the solution at least once. The solution should be deep enough to bathe the interdigital space (approxi­mately 12cm deep) and foot bathing should be carried out at frequent intervals depending on the level of infectious disease in the herd. Recording and documenting foot bathing ) can help to determine this level.

Frequency of use

To maintain a low level of disease in a herd (less than 5 percent for example), foot bathing once or twice a week is generally considered sufficient by some advisor’s or experts. However, if the level is higher (10 percent or more) the frequency should be increased to perhaps three or four times a week. In a herd where the level of disease is high at around 20 percent or more, foot bathing should be carried out every day following the product dosage instructions.

Note that this frequency indication is only a guide and a veterinarian should be consulted if the incidence of disease in your herd is high. Prompt and proper treatment of a lame cow with painful lesions should never be avoided.

Infectious hoof disease and hoof health can take a while to improve and if you switch products, or start using a new product, it could be a number of months before a marked improvement is seen. Remember, these solutions are meant as a preventative method not as a cure. It’s therefore important to be patient and not stop using a product after only a couple of weeks if your cows still appear lame, Lesions go through important changes that reduce their severity and stopping treatment too soon will also stop this positive action. Some farmers prefer to rotate between products, although it’s unclear whether this necessarily helps the situation or just eases the mind of the farmer.

Foot baths should be replenished at least after every 200 cows (more often in an AMS as the solu­tion sits for long periods of time) and fresh solution should be used for each bath. Many footbath solutions are neutralised by the addition of manure, or over time, and so need to be replenished to make sure the cows receive the full benefit of the solution. Leg hygiene scoring is a good way to see how clean or dirty your cows are. Cook (2007) describes leg hygiene scoring as an indicator of how regularly foot bathing should be carried out. He recommends that manure accumulation on the rear hooves and legs of at least 20 percent of the herd should be scored on a 4-point scale. In herds where less than 25 percent of the cows score a 3 or 4, foot bathing can be carried out as necessary, DD will rarely be a problem. Conversely, in herds where 75 percent or more cows score a 3 or 4 then foot bathing is probably necessary seven days a week.


 Score 1 – Little or no manure contamination
Score 2 – Where the lower limb is lightly splashed with manure
Score 3 – There are distinct plaques of manure on the foot, progressing up to the limb
Score 4 – Where there are confluent plaques of caked on manure on the foot and higher up the limb

Leg Hygiene scores. Source : Cook, 2007.


Pre-wash bath

If twin baths are used, with a wash bath prior to the main footbath, the wash bath should be located 1.5-2m in front to prevent carry-over and dilution of the active footbath solution in the second bath. It’s common for mild soap solutions to be used in a wash bath, to allow manure to be loosened and air to reach the inter digital space. Wash baths can be easily employed in the footbath regime but should not be used instead of chemical solutions as they do not disinfect. They do, however, mean that the foot bath solution has a better chance of getting to the desired location on the foot that needs treating.


Particular care should be taken when foot bathing in cold weather and it should never be done in freezing conditions as the solution will freeze, making the alley ways and footbath extremely hazardous for your animals. An increase of infectious hoof disease is often attributed to the difficulty of foot bathing in the severely cold months of winter.


Spraying in the parlour or in an automated system is another preventative measure that can be taken. Hooves should be cleaned prior to spraying so that the solution has a chance to penetrate into the infected area and using correct dosage instructions sprayed directly onto the rear of hooves/lesions. This method is often noted as more effective than foot bathing, as you have the opportunity to treat the hoof directly with a full strength solution that is not neutralised by manure or heavily soiled with bacteria. The dilution rate spraying is often different than that for a footbath, so always read the product dosage instructions.

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK