Iowa researchers shed light on disease that causes lameness in cows

A disease called bovine digital dermatitis has long been a scourge on dairy farms--a leading cause of lameness that often prompts farmers to pull cows from herds. Efforts to figure out what causes the disease have been largely unsuccessful, but now a team of scientists at Iowa State University may have uncovered a few key clues.

The researchers studied 60 dairy cows at the university's farm over the course of three years and discovered that digital dermatitis is not caused by a single bacterium, but rather by several working together. Furthermore, the disease doesn't always cause lameness, raising questions about whether that symptom alone should continue to be relied upon for tracking and treating affected cows.

"If we can intervene in those early lesions before the cows get lame and treat them, then we can prevent those cows from ever having to go through a lameness episode that requires treatment, and obviously that improves the production and welfare," said Paul Plummer, an assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at ISU, in an interview with the Ames Tribune.

The ISU team received a $500,000 three-year grant from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which it is using to try to develop better topical treatments for bovine digital dermatitis, according to the Tribune. Plummer also hopes to improve educational efforts so farmers are trained to recognize early signs of bovine digital dermatitis and treat the disease before it causes lameness. Funding is also available for vaccine development, he told the Tribune.

ISU's efforts to improve the early detection of bovine digital dermatitis will no doubt be boosted by increasing pressure to reduce antibiotics use on farms. The USDA is one of the federal agencies engaged in an ongoing effort to control antibiotics use in food production. Last fall, the agency worked with the FDA and Centers for Disease Control to launch a series of public meetings, during which they brainstormed ideas for collecting antimicrobial drug use and resistance data.

ISU has been at the forefront of research designed to improve animal health on farms. Last November, a team of researchers at the university used DNA sequencing to pinpoint a virus that causes uncontrolled tremors in piglets. They hope to use what they learned to develop a vaccine.

- read more at the Ames Tribune