Digital dermatitis

Veterinary advice should be sought before applying any treatment or vaccine.

Digital Dermatitis

Papillomatous DD, Hairy Warts

Digital dermatitis (DD) is a bacterial foot disease that causes painful foot lesions in adult dairy cattle. It is most frequently a problem for dairy cows that live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. It is a major cause of lameness in cattle, due to pain and discomfort resulting from inflammation and skin damage. A similar form of the disease causes contagious ovine digital dermatitis in sheep and dairy goats. DD is also involved in the development of three other forms of bovine foot lesions; toe necrosis, non-healing sole ulcers, and non-healing white line disease.

Certain cows are more susceptible than others to DD. Lesions occur along the coronary band or on the skin adjacent to one or both of the cattle's feet. DD has been described in stages of progression, although its presentation varies geographically. In the United States, most cattle suffer from a proliferative form of DD (where it is often referred to as papillomatous DD or PDD), with a more erosive form occurring in Europe. The four stages consist of M1 (early stage), M2 (ulcerative stage), M3 (scabbing stage), and M4 (chronic stage).
DD StageDescription
M1 (early stage)Small circumscribed granulomatous area; generally non-painful
M2 (ulcerative stage)Larger lesions; painful on palpation
M3 (scabbing stage)Scabs form over ulcerations
M4 (chronic stage)Surface proliferation or dyskeratosis; generally non-painful; remains infectious; ability to reactivate M1 stage

The primary bacteria responsible for DD is thought to be of the genus Treponema (treponemes), the same genus responsible for Treponemal disease and human periodontitis in humans. The six groups of treponemes most commonly found include T. denticola, T. maltophilum, T. medium, T. putidum, T. phagedenis, and T. paraluiscuniculi. Treponemes are able to infect multiple hosts, including humans. Other bacterial agents identified in DD lesions have included Borrelia burgdorferi, Mycoplasma spp, Bacteroides spp, Campylobacter spp and Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus.

DD is suspected to be transmitted from direct skin to skin transmission from contact with infected cattle, or possibly other animals, even humans. Indirect transmission through contamination of hoof trimming equipment used by professional farriers.


Mild to severe ulcerative or scabbing lesions in skin near feet
May or may not be painful on palpation
One or both feed may be affected


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Laboratory tests


Antibiotics: Systemic and topical; repeated treatment is often necessary : M Palmer et al., 2015


  • Provide cattle with increased access to pasture
  • Maintain a clean and sanitary environment
  • Biosecurity measures; particularly with introduction of new herd members
  • Disinfecting hoof trimming knives with iodine disinfectant between farm visits
  • Regular hoof trimming visits to improve conformation of feet
  • Supplementing diet with increased levels of organic trace minerals and iodine

Article Reference

Risk Factors

  • Housing cattle in cubicles
  • Housing on solid floors with grooved concrete
  • Moist, damp conditions
  • Using professional hoof trimmers who do not disinfect equipment between different farm visits
  • Metabolic imbalance due to poorly balanced diet
  • Housing heifers with lactating dairy cows for a prolonged period of time prior to calving
  • Cows are more at risk during peak lactation
  • Holstein-Friesian and their cross breeds are more susceptible

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