Foot abscess is a bacterial infection within the sole of the foot. Abscesses can affect all of our large animals including cattle, horses, sheep and even alpacas, they can occur in one or multiple feet, most commonly in sheep and cattle the abscess will be present in one toe of a single foot. The lameness can be significantly debilitating due to the pain associated with the infection occurring in a foot that is fully weight bearing. In sheep and cattle, foot abscess can cause severe lameness almost as severe as footrot, therefore it is important to have the feet examined to arrive at the correct diagnosis and management plan. In horses, foot abscess is extremely painful and often presents as a 3-legged lame animal.
The bacteria that cause foot abscess are commonly found in the environment and in the faeces of healthy animals. The infection will start on the surface of the foot and when there is damage to the sole caused by prolonged wetting of the foot, abrasions or stone bruising, the bacteria will enter through very small wounds and can cause an abscess in a number of parts of the foot. Foot abscess can be readily treated when appropriately identified, by opening the abscess to relieve pressure and expose bacteria to air and sunlight, providing antibiotics and ensuring that the animal is comfortable enough to move around and work the discharge out of their foot.
Factors that predispose animals to footrot include prolonged wet weather, warm moist conditions, stoney yards/ laneways/ paddocks, heavier animals due to weight or pregnancy status and excessive moving either across paddocks for water or frequent yardings. In order to control foot abscess it will vary across the different species. In horses the most important thing is to ensure proper hoof care and regular hoof trimming, during times of excessive ground moisture and to a lesser extent dryness, horses should be monitored and avoid housing, or working them on rough surfaces.
In sheep and cattle, prevention of injuries to the foot will reduce the prevalence of foot abscess. The aim is to avoid predisposing factors, such as over-fatness and wet, muddy ground conditions. Avoiding excessive yardings during winter, or stoney laneways is important in cattle. In sheep avoiding working through muddy yards and lambing in freshly sown cereal crop paddocks will reduce the incidence as these provide the ideal environment for infections of the foot. In all production animals the selection pressure on breeding stock for favorable foot conformation will be hugely beneficial in reducing the incidence come the unavoidable warm moist conditions of winter.