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Assess lameness problem before rushing to treatment

Animal Health: Don’t just assume a limping animal has foot rot, as several conditions may apply

A foot affected by a very large interdigital fibroma or corn.

During summer grazing, lameness is one of the most common ailments encountered in beef cattle. Whether it’s calves, cows, yearlings or purebred or commercial, none are immune from developing some types of lameness.

Surprisingly, many cattle really don’t require much treatment, yet many are treated. Producers often use the all-encompassing term of ‘foot rot,’ yet most lameness at pasture is not caused by foot rot. With a wet spring in some parts of the Prairies, the summer of 2018 could see a higher-than-normal incidence of foot rot, but it is important to differentiate the many forms of lameness we see at pasture and understand the steps necessary to correct them.

After lame livestock are spotted, get up close to observe — if necessary use binoculars. First determine which leg they are favouring. Look for signs of swelling, the degree of weight-bearing on the affected leg and how they ambulate. In particular look for at hooves for evidence of cracks, toes spread apart, corns, long hooves or curled toes. These may all cause pain in the foot. Of course as with any condition or illness, record the description of the animal including colour, ear tag and any other distinguishing features as this makes them easier to find on the recheck.

A number of the long-acting products are very effective against foot rot and if caught early, often one shot can be curative. Always consult your veterinarian.

More-involved cases

Many of the other lamenesses fall into two broad categories: those that need more-involved procedures and those that need to simply convalesce on their own with no further treatment.

By more-involved procedures I am referring to conditions such as broken legs, which may need anything from emergency slaughter in larger animals to either casting or splint applications in younger ones. In young calves, casts and splints, depending on the location of the break, have a very high success rate if found early before the bone has broken out through the skin.

A couple other foot conditions needing further care are sole abscesses and septic arthritis. These animals need to be brought home for a therapeutic foot trim performed by your veterinarian. The abscess needs to be opened and drained. We often see this condition in animals with bad feet or a crack in the hoof wall, which allows the infection to enter.

As with other painful conditions it will be up to you and your veterinarian whether painkillers are given. Sometimes limping with convalescence allows the condition to heal quicker rather than removing the pain and having a false sense of improvement. A septic arthritis is when infection has been introduced into the last joint just beneath the hoof. The animal needs to be removed from pasture and properly treated and healed before returning.

Don’t rush to treat

Most of the multitude of other lameness problems are transient and I suggest not to stress the cattle by catching them initially. Just like people, cattle can sprain or strain themselves in a multitude of ways, leading to transient lameness problems. Cattle with poor feet, long hooves or abnormal gaits are definitely more predisposed to these as well. Hoof abnormalities such as cracks (horizontal or vertical), corns, or long hooves ripping off too short will also lead to lameness. A good hoof trimming in spring will prevent a lot of these problems the following summer. Stifle (knee) injuries come in degrees of severity can result from various insults to the hind legs including breeding injuries.

In dealing with cases of pasture lameness don’t rush for the antibiotic syringe without first closely assessing the actual cause. Prudent usage of antibiotics really comes to light with foot and lameness issues. Remember for those lameness cases that can’t be treated such as a broken leg, emergency slaughter. preferably on farm is always an option as long as drugs have not already been given.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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