Lameness in cattle is a frustrating yet fairly common occurrence on the farm. Although it can occur at any time of year, lameness is more of an issue in the spring and summer than most other times of the year on a typical cow/calf farm.
Lameness is more than just a painful condition. A cow with a sore limb can’t get around as well, won’t be able to forage as well, and as a result won’t provide her calf with as much milk. A bull with a sore limb can’t do his job well during breeding season. Although not as common, a growing calf with a sore limb won’t grow as well as the other calves.
The majority of lameness occurs in the foot. Many factors play a role in a cow becoming lame. Wet conditions in the spring, such as when cattle have to walk through muddy areas to access feed or water provides an excellent way for the skin to soften, which can allow bacteria to cause issues in the foot. The opposite is also true; dry conditions where cattle are walking over sharp ground can result in the skin around the hooves to be compromised.
Some cows benefit from their feet being trimmed if they are walking on ground that is not firm enough to wear the toes off. Long toes often lead to broken toes, which can result in further concerns with the hoof.
Footrot is one of the most common diseases of the foot. It occurs when the skin around the hooves becomes infected. The bacteria usually responsible for this can be found in cattle feces and can survive in moist soil. Footrot more commonly affects the hind limbs, and usually one foot at a time. It causes sudden onset of lameness and is very painful. Footrot is usually easily treatable with antibiotics and some pain relief. There is also a vaccine available to help prevent footrot, although trying to limit moist environments and cattle walking over coarse ground are also helpful.
If a foot infection is not treated when it first starts, or the bacteria are pushed into deeper tissues by sharp object, it is possible for the joint to become diseased. If this occurs, usually one side of the foot is significantly larger than the other. Treating with antibiotics will not cure this cow/bull/calf. As long as it is just one side affected, your veterinarian may surgically amputate one of the two toes. This will remove the source of pain and infection. Cows can go on to live several years missing one toe. Toe amputation is typically not done in bulls as their feet are very important for breeding and they do not function well missing a toe.
Whether you have a lame cow that you’ve treated with antibiotics that just won’t get better, or a bull that has just come up lame, be sure to contact your veterinarian about the best approach to your lame animal.
Dr. Corinna Goodine was born and raised in the Fort St. John Community and discovered her passion for veterinary medicine at an early age. In June 2015 she completed her dream of becoming a veterinarian and graduated from The Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She is excited and enthusiastic about joining the veterinary team as a mixed animal practitioner with special interests in beef cattle and small animal medicine and surgery.