Bovine digital dermatitis (BDD) is a global infectious disease causing lameness of cattle and is responsible for substantial animal welfare issues and economic losses. The causative agents are considered to be spirochetal bacteria belonging to the genus Treponema, which have consistently been identified in BDD lesions worldwide. One potential means of controlling infection is the disruption of transmission; however, the infection reservoirs and transmission routes of BDD treponemes have yet to be elucidated. To address these issues, we surveyed for evidence of BDD treponeme presence in the dairy farm environment, in bovine tissues and in bovine gastrointestinal (GI) tract contents. A total of 368 samples were tested using PCR assays specific for each of three currently recognised, isolated phylotypes of BDD treponemes. All environmental samples, together with insects and GI tract content samples were negative for BDD treponeme DNA from the three phylotypes. However, we identified BDD treponemes in two non-pedal bovine regions: the oral cavity (14.3% of cattle tested) and the rectum (14.8% of cattle tested). Whilst only single phylotypes were detected in the oral cavity, two of the rectal tissues yielded DNA from more than one phylotype, with one sample yielding all three BDD treponeme phylotypes. Whilst it might be considered that direct skin to skin contact may be a major transmission route of BDD treponemes, further studies are required to characterise and determine the potential contribution of oral and rectal carriage to BDD transmission.
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