Aims Patients’ illness beliefs are known to be influential determinants of self-care behaviours in many chronic conditions. In a prospective observational study we examined their role in predicting foot self-care behaviours in patients with diabetic foot ulcers. Methods Patients (n = 169) were recruited from outpatient podiatry clinics. Clinical and demographic factors, illness beliefs and foot self-care behaviours were assessed as baseline (week 0). Foot self-care behaviours were assessed again 6, 12 and 24 weeks later. Linear regressions examined the contribution of beliefs at baseline to subsequent foot self-care behaviours, controlling for past behaviour (i.e., foot self-care at baseline) and clinical and demographic factors that may affect foot self-care (i.e., age and ulcer size). Results Our models accounted for between 42 and 58% of the variance in foot self-care behaviours. Even after controlling for past foot-care behaviours, age and ulcer size; patients’ beliefs regarding the symptoms associated with ulceration, their understanding of ulceration and their perceived personal control over ulceration emerged as independent determinants of foot self-care. Conclusions Patients’ beliefs are important determinants of foot-care practices. They may, therefore, also be influential in determining ulcer outcomes. Interventions aimed at modifying illness beliefs may offer a means for promoting self-care and improving ulcer outcomes.