Types of Lameness

Lameness is a general term that indicates an animal’s walking pattern is somewhat different from normal. As we have already seen, there are several causes that can result in lameness, and there is a general consensus among hoof care experts around the world on the most common ones. Lameness problems can be divided into non-infectious and infectious, and can be caused by 17 different disorders including:


Sole ulcers

Sole ulcers are a very painful type of hoof lesion, whereby infection forms between the sole and the underlying tissue. Although they can arise for a number of reasons, sole ulcers are mainly associated with trauma, and can result in severely lame cows. Lesions are often caused by stone bruises or related to haemorrhages resulting from acidosis. These should be managed by either a well trained hoof trimmer or a veterinarian familiar with treating hoof problems. They may require the opposing claw to be fitted with a block to elevate the hoof so that the affected claw is relieved of pressure and has an opportunity to heal.

White line disease

White line disease is caused when the sole separates from the side wall of the hoof, allowing material to penetrate and infect the area, and results in a very painful condition. Walkways and waiting or holding areas need to be kept as free as possible of stones and debris. It is also important that cows are not forced to pivot rapidly which can place excessive force on the hoof and result in a separation of the sole from the hoof wall.


Foot rot

Lameness sometimes results from bacteria invading the soft tissue of the hoof and this is often termed foot rot, or inter digital phlegmon. When the bacteria penetrate the tissue and become embedded in the hoof and between claws, they multiply and cause significant swelling resulting in pressure, which is very painful. Animals suffering from foot rot will resist placing any weight on the affected hoof and their ability to walk is severely limited. Treatment for this condition needs to be in consultation with a veterinarian who will likely treat the condition with an antibiotic preparation to try and eliminate the infection.

Foot rot is common where cattle are kept on wet pastures and around drinking areas where small sharp pebbles may be present. The causative bacteria may live in the mud in these areas and if they are driven into the hoof tissue they will initiate infection.

Digital dermatitis (DD)

For dairy farmers another cause of lameness has emerged over the past 20 years. whereby a lesion develops in the inter digital cleft of the claws, or at the rear of the heel, primarily on the rear hooves. These lesions occur in several stages, some of which are very painful and can produce severe lameness. Lesions are classified by severity, ranging from no lesion (0), hyper­keratotic (H), proliferative or papillomatous (P). granulomatous (G) and ulcerative (U).



Lesion types

This disorder goes by several commonly used descriptive terms including strawberry heel. Mortellaro’s disease and digital dermatitis.

The most commonly referenced predisposing factors for this problem include cattle being housed on constantly wet surfaces and walking continuously in manure slurry. These conditions tend to be commonplace in cubicle or free-stall housing facilities typical of many countries in Europe and North America.

In these environments, species of Treponema bacteria appear to thrive in the wet, anaerobic (oxygen free) conditions. It is postulated that these bacteria may penetrate the skin tissue in the hoof region and initiate an infection that may lead to the lesions seen in DD. The lesions that develop can take several forms, some of which are more painful than others. The ulcerative and granulomatous stages in particular can be very painful. Therefore, to reduce the number of cows that exhibit severe lameness, the management objective must be to reduce the number of these lesions to a stage that is less painful.

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK