Look for tell-tale signs as consistent levels of lameness are found in cattle

CONCERNED at the consistent level of lameness in beef cattle, the National Animal Disease Information Service (Nadis) has encouraged beef farmers to be more aware of the problem and to be on the look-out for the main causes.

Vet Phil Scott said the greatest losses occurred when a stud bull went lame during the breeding season, resulting in an extended calving season and perhaps an increased culling rate, because the bull was incapable of serving cows while lame. Joint lesions were especially common in bulls, he said.

In all classes of cattle, lameness would result in rapid weight loss, due to decreased grazing, causing reduced milk yield in females, a delay to the onset of normal heat, and lower conception.

Mr Scott said lameness was a major welfare concern, especially with members of the public, and all lame cows should be attended to promptly. Veterinary attention would be required when the cause of the lameness could not be determined and/or when the lameness persisted after treatment.


There is a sudden onset of severe lameness and the animal only ‘toes’ the foot to the ground.

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The lesion appears as widening of the interdigital space with swelling progressing up the leg as far as the fetlock joint. There is a break in the skin with necrosis of interdigital tissue.

Wet dung and mud soften the interdigital area with sharp stones causing trauma to the skin, allowing bacterial infection to penetrate deeper tissues.

A particular problem is gateways and the area around water troughs because they become water-logged and are often filled with old bricks and stones, providing an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive, and cause damage to the animals’ feet.

It is essential to lift the animal’s foot to check for impacted stones, twigs and other foreign objects, and spray the wound with oxytetracycline aerosol. An injection of most antibiotics will cure the infection. Prevention when cattle are housed includes regular slurry removal in cubicle housing.

Control with the use of 5 per cent formalin footbath four times weekly during risk periods and upgrading of farm tracks applies mainly to dairy herds.


There is an excess of epidermal tissue occupying part, or all, of the interdigital space, appearing as a protuberance of skin at the front of the interdigital space. The condition is hereditary and is found most commonly in the hind legs of Hereford and Charolais bulls.

Excoriation and infection of the growth leads to superficial infection and lameness. Treat the superficial infection with topical oxytetracycline and perhaps injectable antibiotics. Surgical removal of growths is a last resort.

Foreign bodies/abscesses

Impaction of dirt and small stones in the white line (the junction where the horn of the wall meets the sole) may result in white line abscesses.

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Lesions are usually found in the lateral (outer) claw of the hind foot on the outside border close to the junction with the heel.

This region of the wall is under most physical stress during first impact of the hoof with the ground, especially when the cow turns a sharp corner.

If left untreated, infection can extend up the hoof wall and erupt at the coronary band.

Nails, staples, thorns, and sharp stones can penetrate the sole, causing an abscess. A black mark is typically found in the sole or white line overlying the pus.

With foot abscesses, pare down with a hoof knife to release the pus and remove all under-run horn. It is not always easy to identify the precise location of the abscess and veterinary attention may be required.

Great care must be taken not to damage the sensitive corium as proliferation of tissue at this site will result in delayed healing and persistence of the lameness.

When correctly pared out, there should be no blood when the abscess is released, only pus. Antibiotic therapy is not necessary, but a shoe or block can be glued to the sound claw to relieve weight from the sensitive claw.


A vertical fracture of the hoof wall that extends for a variable distance between the coronary band and the bottom of the wall. The cause is unknown, but may be caused by excessive drying out of the hoof horn during dry summer months.

The front feet are more often affected and the defect varies from a small vertical crack near the coronary band to a large jagged uneven fissure on the anterior wall. The depth of the lesion varies and pus may or may not be present.

Treatment involves removal of all affected horn by paring out a shallow ‘V’. Dirt is often packed deep in the crack near the sensitive lamina. Antibiotic therapy is not necessary.


An elongation of the foot with an increased length of hoof walls and sole and a lessened angle of the dorsal border with the weight-bearing surface. At a later date the toe bends upwards and no longer touches the ground.

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Overgrowth especially affects hind feet, and the main cause is a lack of wear when cattle are kept in straw courts.

Corkscrew claw

This is a hereditable condition where the axis of the lateral claw alters due to a change in the axis of the second phalynx. It typically affects the lateral claw of hind limb.


Nadis is a network of 60 veterinary practices and six veterinary colleges monitoring diseases in cattle, sheep and pigs in the UK. It is sponsored by Eblex, HCC and QMS, Merial and Pfizer Animal Health.

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