Treatment Of A Lame Cow

The aim of treatment is to alleviate pain, and treatment success is determined by early and effective intervention. Early intervention is only possible if a lame cow is identified at an early stage and immediate action is taken. Researchers have found that almost all dairy farmers underestimate the prevalence of lameness in their herd. This means that a significant number of lame cows go untreated because the farmer does not recognise them as lame. It is therefore important that the farmer or other people working with the cows are trained to recognise lame cows. Regular observation of the cows’ gait is the only way to recognise lameness at an early stage and should be part of the daily management.

Treating lame cows is a job that is easily postponed on many farms due to the time pressures of other jobs. But a lame cow is a financial burden as well as a welfare concern, and therefore immediate action is essential. Treatment of lame cows should be planned into the daily or weekly work routines, and not just when there is some time free.

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Effective intervention is only possible with a good understanding of what to look for and what to do. A treatment plan should be made together with the herd veterinarian. The person treating the cows should be trained to recognise the different diseases as it is important to find the right cause of the lameness before treatment commences. It is not unusual to find a number of abnormalities or a mixture of infections on one claw, with one causing more discomfort for the cow than the other. In this case, it is important to find them all and treat each one as necessary.

Most lameness in dairy cows is related to lesions in the claws. Only a few cases are related to upper leg problems. To be able to have a good look at the claws and to treat them well, the leg of the cow must be lifted. The safest way to do so is by using a trimming chute. A good trimming chute should be placed in an area where it is easy to bring the cow, with plenty of light and space. It is important that the job be carried out in a way that is safe for both the person and cow.

Recording treatments plays an important role in identifying the causes of lameness on the farm and steering the prevention programme.

Treatment of a claw always starts with curative or corrective trimming and sharp trimming knives are essential for this job. Overgrowth should be removed, bearing surfaces should be flat to preserve outer weight bearing, and loose horn should be removed. In the case of a non-infectious claw disease like a sole ulcer or white line disease, the hard horn around the affected area has to be removed to prevent pressure and irritation. Practical training is essential to do a good trimming job.

In the case of an infectious claw disease, the lesion needs to be cleaned and dried. A tropical medicine such as a spray, gel, or paste should then be applied. The medicine or disinfectant used should comply with local regulations and discussed with the herd veterinarian. The claw should be checked after three days. and the topical treatment repeated. In severe cases, and where there is a lot of swelling and the foot is hot below the fetlock joint (foot rot/in­terdigital phlegmon for example), parental antibiotic treatment can be necessary. Consider that while antibiotic treatments are sometimes necessary and important, they are frequently misused as most lameness cases only require pain relief Antibiotic treatment also means that the cow needs to be marked and the milk withdrawal period must be observed.

Sometimes a bandage can be used to protect a lesion or infection and make sure the medicine stays in place. It is important that the claw is well cleaned before putting a bandage on and that the bandage does not pinch off. It’s essential that the bandage is removed after three days otherwise it can provide an excellent environment that some bacteria thrive in. A bandage that is not removed in time will also start to irritate and pinch the skin with severe open lesions as a result.

Resting the affected claw is highly beneficial to promote healing and pain relief. Sometimes the weight bearing can be relieved from the affected claw by extra trimming to make it longer than the sound claw. If the claw needs longer to heal and the cow is in a lot of pain, the sound claw can be elevated by applying a claw block to relieve the weight bearing from the affected claw altogether. This encourages the cow to move around again and to feed as the pain is relieved. In most cases, it also means that she can be returned to the herd. There are several types of block but they all need to be applied to a dry, clean claw.

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The block should be appropriate for the claw shape and size and it is important to ensure that the block is not placed too far forward as this will make the cow walk on her heels and therefore, be more susceptible to infection. Claw blocks should be checked regularly to make sure they remain correctly positioned to provide weight bearing relief for the affected claw.

With some severely irreversible claw problems, or for conditions such as septic pedal arthritis, amputation of the claw can definitely be considered as an option. In most cases, amputation is associated with rapid recovery and immediate, dramatic pain relief.

When treating the claw of a cow that is lame on one particular leg, it is a good idea to check the claws on the other legs as it is not uncommon to find lesions there too.

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK