Short communication: Efficacy of copper sulfate hoof baths against digital dermatitis—Where is the evidence?

By Thomsen, Peter T., Journal of Dairy Science, 2015
Digital dermatitis is a major problem in modern dairy production because of decreased animal welfare and financial losses. Individual cow treatments are often seen as too time consuming by farmers, and walk-through hoof baths have therefore been used extensively to control digital dermatitis. For decades, copper sulfate hoof baths have been used to treat and prevent digital dermatitis. Copper sulfate has been referred to as the industry gold standard when it comes to hoof-bath chemicals. In several scientific studies testing the efficacy of other hoof-care products, copper sulfate has been used as a positive control, thereby indicating that copper sulfate has a known positive effect. However, this may not be the case. A dilemma may exist between (1) copper sulfate generally being perceived as being effective against digital dermatitis and (2) a possible lack of well-documented scientific evidence of this effect. The objective of this study was to evaluate the existing scientific literature to determine whether the efficacy of copper sulfate used in hoof baths against digital dermatitis has in fact been demonstrated scientifically. A systematic literature search identified 7 peer-reviewed journal articles describing the efficacy of copper sulfate in hoof baths as treatment or prevention of bovine digital dermatitis. Only 2 of the 7 studies compared copper sulfate to a negative control; most studies were relatively small, and often no clear positive effect of copper sulfate was demonstrated. In conclusion, the frequent claim that copper sulfate is widely reported to be effective is supported by little scientific evidence. Well-designed clinical trials evaluating the effect of copper sulfate against digital dermatitis compared with a negative control are needed. Until such studies have been made, the efficacy of copper sulfate in hoof baths against digital dermatitis remains largely unproven.
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