Association between a genetic index for digital dermatitis resistance and the presence of digital dermatitis, heel horn erosion and interdigital hyperplasia in Holstein cows

A Anagnostopoulos, M Barden, B E Griffiths, C Bedford, M Winters, B Li, M Coffey, A Psifidi, G Banos, G Oikonomou

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Digital dermatitis (DD) is a polybacterial disease endemic to most UK dairy farms. It poses a major financial and welfare threat and is characterized by high incidence and recurrence rates. We aimed to investigate the association between the UK EBV for resistance to digital dermatitis, the digital dermatitis index (DDI), and the frequency of DD, heel horn erosion (HHE), and interdigital hyperplasia (IH) in a population of Holstein dairy cows. We enrolled and genotyped 2,352 cows from 4 farms in a prospective cohort study. Foot lesion records were recorded by veterinary surgeons for each animal at 4 time points during a production cycle, starting at approximately 2 mo before calving and ending in late lactation. Importantly, these records were not used in the calculation of the DDI. Lesion records were matched to the animal's own DDI (n = 2,101) and their sire's DDI (n = 1,812). Digital dermatitis index values in our study population ranged from −1.41 to +1.2 and were transformed to represent distance from the mean expressed in SD. The relationship between the DDI and the presence of DD was investigated using a logistic regression model, with farm, parity, and a farm-parity interaction fitted as covariates. A multivariable logistic regression model was fitted to evaluate the relationship between HHE and DDI with farm fitted as a covariate. Finally, a univariable logistic regression model with DDI as explanatory variable was used to investigate the relationship between IH and DDI. The odds ratio of an animal being affected by DD was 0.69 for 1 SD increase in the animal's DDI (95% CI = 0.63–0.76). The odds of HHE and IH were 0.69 (95% CI = 0.62–0.76) and 0.58 (95% CI = 0.49–0.68) respectively for 1 SD increase in DDI. The adjusted probability of DD was 32% (95% CI = 27–36%) for cows with mean DDI value of 0, while it was 24% (95% CI = 20–29%) in cows with a DDI value of +1. Sire DDI breeding values were standardized in the same way and then binned into terciles creating an ordinal variable representing bulls of high, medium, and low genetic merit for DD resistance. The daughters of low genetic merit bulls were at 2.05 (95% CI = 1.60–2.64), 1.96 (95% CI = 1.53–2.50), and 2.85 (95% CI = 1.64–5.16) times greater odds of being affected by DD, HHE, and IH, respectively, compared with the daughters of high genetic merit bulls. The results of this study highlight the potential of digital dermatitis genetic indexes to aid herd management of DD, and suggest that breeding for resistance to DD, alongside environmental and management control practices, could reduce the prevalence of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4915-4925
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number7
Early online date6 Feb 2024
Publication statusPrint publication - Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Dairy Science Association


  • digital dermatitis
  • genetic index
  • lameness
  • resistance
  • Prospective Studies
  • Digital Dermatitis/genetics
  • Hoof and Claw/pathology
  • Hyperplasia/veterinary
  • Genotype
  • Animals
  • Foot Diseases/veterinary
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases/genetics
  • Female


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