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How to manage lameness in store cattle

Lameness is a major cause for concern in all classes of livestock, and can have a marked impact on the bottom line with store and finishing cattle.

Problems with lameness in groups of store and finishing cattle can result in reduced growth rates, increased veterinary costs and, in some cases, may result in the animal being culled for humane reasons.


SAC Consulting veterinary investigation officer Katy Hewitson says poor husbandry and management can predispose lameness due to injuries, disease and infection.

Foot abscess

Miss Hewitson says young cattle coming in from lush pastures are particularly prone to damage of the sole which often leads to secondary infections.


“Abrasive surfaces, wild cattle and rough handling often contribute to this problem. The outside of the front toe is the most commonly affected location. Early signs may be difficult to spot with only a mild lameness and short stride at walk. If treated at this stage, recovery may be rapid.”


However Miss Hewitson says if allowed to progress, the animal will become lame and swelling may be noted at the coronary band around the top of the toe. Once the trapped pus bursts out, recovery may be difficult and slow.


“In contrast to foul-in-the-foot, there is no swelling between the toes. Trimming the hoof to relieve trapped pus is necessary. Only a person experienced in dealing with foot problems or a cattle veterinarian should attempt to drain a foot abscess. Overtrimming, which causes bleeding, may lead to further problems.”

Foot rot

In cases of foot rot the tissues in between the toes become very swollen and have a foul odour. The infection is the result of damage to the tissues between the toes.

To determine if an animal is affected by foot rot, Miss Hewitson says the foot must be picked up and examined.


“Long acting antibiotic injections are required for treatment. Topical treatment is not effective. Consult a vet on which antibiotics are most suitable.”

Digital dermatitis

This infectious condition is more commonly seen in dairy cattle but can occur in beef cattle. It results most commonly in a raw bright red lesion which, if left, may progress to form growths, occasionally known as hairy heel warts, on the skin at the back of the foot.


Miss Hewitson says: “This condition is notoriously difficult to treat. Clean, dry bedding is essential as it thrives in moist conditions. Individuals may respond well to topical antibiotic spray and dressing of the foot.


Antibiotic footbaths may be used for treatment under veterinary prescription and 5 per cent formalin or copper sulphate footbaths may aid control. However, footbathing is likely to be of limited value if cattle are returned to unhygienic sheds.”

Swollen joints

These may occur after a traumatic injury to a joint, spread of infection from an untreated or inappropriately treated foot problem, or from spread of bacteria from a generalised infection.


Swollen joints are generally painful and the animal may lose condition.


Miss Hewitson says: “Treatment with antibiotics is often unrewarding as, although the bacteria involved are often sensitive to the drugs, they often do not penetrate in to joint spaces well.


“Euthanasia may need to be considered in unresponsive cases. Damage to the joints higher in the leg – such as the shoulder, femur and stifle – are relatively rare. However, it is important to try to identify these injuries before attempting to lift a foot as manipulation of a damaged joint while trying to examine the foot could potentially cause further injury.”

Broken bones

The prognosis for fractures in rapidly growing beef animals is generally poor and euthanasia is often necessary for humane reasons. Salvage for human consumption may be attempted only if the animal is out with the withdrawal times for any previous medications given.


Miss Hewitson says some nutritional conditions, such as rickets, may predispose animals to fractures, and careful attention to ration formulation will avoid this type of problem.

Injection site damage

Muscle damage at injection sites can result in severe lameness. This damage is long-lasting and will reduce the eventual carcase value.


“Where possible, use drugs administered subcutaneously and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. If injecting into muscle, the neck muscle is a more suitable injection site than the hip. The animal must be well restrained. Always use clean needles and never mix different drugs in the same syringe.”


Animals affected with laminitis walk with short delicate steps and may stand with the forefeet forward. The two front feet are usually equally affected and the sensitive tissues inside the feet become inflamed.


Miss Hewitson explains the condition is extremely painful and can permanently damage foot growth.


With no effective treatment available, prevention by proper dietary management is necessary.


“If cases of laminitis are a concern, nutrition should be reviewed taking factors such as feeding regime, stocking density and available trough space into account.”

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