Mortellaro (Day -289)

Mortellaros disease in cows

There are many diseases and conditions in animals – and many great vets out there have discovered these and their related treatments. With cows one of the great names is from Italy – Professor Carlos Mortellaro, who started the development of knowledge of digital dermatitis in 1974. This week Prof. Mortellaro has been visiting and was asked to be allowed to lecture us on the treatment of Mortellaro disease.

Another name for this disease is strawberry disease, where lesions develop in the gap of the toes. Something that I found interesting was the amount of controversy over whether or not it is due to management or in fact is contagious.

Whilst a lot of literature says that digital dermatitis is contagious Prof Mortellaro made a strong case for this not being true. In different countries the same disease is caused by different bacteria. With Koch’s postulates of microbiology for a disease to be contagious the bacteria must cause the same disease in a healthy animal. Now with digital dermatitis when the bacteria from the affected animal are inoculated into a healthy animal it does not cause disease. There has been studies where the bacteria has caused disease after the leg is wrapped in wet bandages for several weeks – however whether it was the bacteria or the damage from the bandages that caused the disease is controversial.

This disease has an enormous economic impact on dairy farm production with lameness being the third most common disease in cows. Whilst the number of diary farms are decreasing the size of the remaining farms is increasing, and with this the incidence of digital dermatitis. The thoughts of Prof. Mortellaro are that the disease is environmentally linked – and with improved husbandry and housing it allows for better prevention of the disease.

When foot disease does occur there is often a rush of dairy farmers to try treating it themselves with antibiotics in order to save costs – unfortunately many of these antibiotics are not needed. There are several different diseases all of which affect the foot, and the treatment for each is very different. Prof. Mortellaro placed emphasis on the proper diagnosis as the inappropriate use of antibiotics increases the risk of antibiotic resistance.

The problem of lameness in cows is one driven by economics, which are driven by the supermarkets. Unfortunately even though you pay £1 in a supermarket for your milk the farmer only gets around 38p from this with the rest going to the dairy and supermarket. This money often is less than it costs to produce and in the UK dairy farmers often are subsidised by the EU. This money ensures a basic standard on farms, and the improvement of machines. However it does not allow the improvements needed to reduce the level of lameness – so whilst lameness cause a drop in milk production, and loss of money. It is a vicious cycle and one that needs to change for the welfare of the animals.

Take a read of this to find out how to help UK dairy farmers.

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