As we welcome spring, we also welcome the hairy heel warts that have flared up over the winter. The increased incidence is often because farms were not able to run a footpath as consistently as they would like to through the winter months. This month I want to clarify a few comments that I hear in the country regarding hairy heel warts.

1. “My foot trimmer cuts off the warts and that helps them heal faster.”

The hairy heel wart itself is not truly a wart. A wart is caused by a virus whereas hairy heel warts are actually caused by a bacterial infection. That bacterial infection irritates the skin and it causes the skin to continue to proliferate. So, what you think looks like a wart is actually the skin reacting to that bacteria. Cutting them off creates an open wound on the foot and is going to delay healing time and create a more lame cow. So NEVER cut off a hairy heel wart. Hairy heel warts should be treated with an antibiotic paste or an antibiotic under a foot wrap. That is the best way to treat an individual wart.

2. “I run a foot bath regularly, so I do not need to treat individual warts.”

A cow that is lame from hairy heel warts or has a large wart at hoof trimming DOES need to be treated individually with an antibiotic paste or a wrap. That is the quickest way to increase healing time. Foot baths are for the prevention of future lesions. Footbaths may treat small warts but their main purpose is to kill the bacteria on the skin that would potentially cause a hairy heel wart. Researchers have found that it takes 60-120 days from the time a cow is infected until the actual wart is seen. This is a long-term chronic disease. The foot bath is an essential component of hairy heel wart control.

3. “I wrap warts so I don’t need to run a foot bath.”

Warts are the clinical manifestation of the infection, but the footpath is there to kill the bacteria before the wart actually forms. Not running a foot bath on farms that have a hairy heel wart incidence of 10% or more is a dangerous game and you are never going to get the hairy heel wart incidence under 10% without a footbath program. The farms with the lowest hairy heel wart incidence run a footbath at least 3 to 4 days a week year-round unless the weather is bitterly cold. They don’t deviate from that protocol because they know that this is a long-term chronic disease that is very costly to their farm. So, even if you are wrapping and treating warts, you still have to run a foot bath regularly.

4. “The hairy heel warts just flared up this week.”

Hairy heel warts are a chronic disease, so it will take 60 – 120 days for that wart to appear after the cow is infected. If you are seeing a flare-up in the lame cows from warts, that tells me that the infection started 2-4 months ago. There is a chronic problem that will need a broad approach including a consistent foot bath program, cow comfort evaluation and foot trimming consultation.

Hairy heel warts are a chronic, expensive disease but it is manageable. If you would like to discuss your hairy heel wart or other foot health concerns, please give us a call at the Veterinary Medical Center.

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