Editor’s note: This article was written by Tom Fuhrmann, veterinarian and owner of DairyWorks, a management-consulting firm in Arizona.
Lameness is a general term that describes one of five specific causes for animals to have an abnormal walk or gait. Almost all lameness is due to foot rather than leg problems. So it is absolutely essential to pickup and inspect the lame foot to make the correct, specific diagnosis. A specific diagnosis is necessary because treatments differ greatly from one form of lameness to another. It is essential to your overall herd hoof health that lame cows be diagnosed early and treated correctly.
Lame cow issue 1: Foot Rot
Foot rot is a bacterial infection of the soft tissue of the foot causing swelling, pain and splitting of the skin between the two digits of the foot.
1. Temperature: 101.5 - 102.5 degrees F
- Other body organs: usually only 1 foot affected
- Obvious signs: lameness of one leg, swelling of the tissue around and above the foot, cracking or splitting of the tissue between the toes, soles of foot are normal
- Confirm diagnosis: lift and examine foot for classical clinical signs
- Differentiate from: sole abscess, foot/leg injury
PROGNOSIS: Excellent (>95 percent), chronic infection will develop if proper diagnosis and treatment is not made early; examine all lame cows immediately and start treatment as soon as possible.
Lame Cow Issue 2: Hairy Wart
Hairy wart is an infection of the skin usually at the heel of the foot. The skin infection is often a swollen red area with "hair-like" projections from it. The disease may cause severe pain and the animal can have a marked lameness.
- Temperature: normal
2. Other body organs: usually 1 foot affected
3. Obvious signs: lameness, foot has irritated skin at the heel, usually with "hair-like" projections from it
4. Confirm diagnosis: response to treatment is excellent
PROGNOSIS: Excellent (>99 percent)
Lame Cow Issue 3: Laminitis
Laminitis is lameness generally caused by acidosis. Rumenal acidosis causes the release of histamine which is carried in the blood to the feet. Histamine causes blood to "leak out" from the thousands of blood capillaries in the foot causing "pooling" of the blood spots. As these pools of blood decay, they change from blood cells to gas and liquid which produces pressure on all surrounding tissues deep within the foot. The pressure causes pain (lameness), tenderness and eventually the development of sterile pus which breaks out either at the top of the hoof or in the sole area. A nutritional feeding problem can cause subclinical lameness in a large percent of animals.
- Temperature: normal