Claw disorders in dairy cattle

Lameness, next to udder inflammation and impaired fertility, is one of the main reasons for the premature culling of cows.
Healthy claws are of great importance to achieve optimal results. A cow with claw problems will go to the feed fence less often, resulting in less feed intake and lower milk production. In addition to the economic consequences, claw problems have a negative impact on animal welfare.
The cost of claw problems is mainly due to:

  • a decrease in production due to lower feed intake
  • a decrease in fertility
  • high treatment costs

These costs can quickly amount to EUR 200 per cow, so a great deal can be saved with prevention.


How do claw problems occur?

Claw problems can be divided into infectious or non-infectious claw disorders, depending on the cause.

Infectious claw disorders:

  1. Digital dermatitis: Italian footrot or Mortellaro disease is mainly caused by spirochetes (Treponema species). The lesions present at different stages and are predominantly in the area of the heel bulbs between the two claws. The disease is usually introduced through the purchase of infected animals. Once present on the farm, it is impossible to get rid of it. Prevention is therefore the most important means of control.
  2. Interdigital dermatitis: Common footrot is caused by several bacteria, including Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necroforum. As the name suggests, it causes infection in the interdigital space of the hoof. Common footrot can be cured by cleaning and treating, but prevention remains more important.
  3. Panaritium: The footrot is caused by the bacteria Fusobacterium necroforum and Bacteroides melaninogenicus. The infection is always caused by damage or a wound. Prompt treatment is recommended to prevent the bacteria from penetrating the deeper tissues of the lower foot.
  4. Heel horn erosion: Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necroforum are two bacteria that cause this injury. The course of the disease has different stages and is seen mainly in the winter period when cows are housed. Treatment consists of cleaning the claw and removing the horn that is too damaged and treating it locally.


Non-infectious claw disorders:

  1. White line disease: white line disease or abscess has several causes. It can be caused by external damage such as stones on paths and improper nutrition that results in ruminal acidosis. The abscesses occur mainly in the outer claws of the hind legs. As a treatment, the abscess is cut away with a claw knife so that the abscess can drain. A block is applied to the healthy claw to prevent pressure on the affected claw.
  2. Sole ulcer: this damage usually occurs on the outer claws of the hind legs or the inner claws of the front legs. Due to overgrowth of the horn of the sole, a pressure injury occurs due to too much strain on the claw at that location. As a result, horn is no longer formed at this pressure site, which can cause a hole in the horn of the sole. Treatment consists of removing as much horn as possible from around the ulcer, which reduces pressure and allows horn to grow again in the area of the ulcer. Preventive trimming prevents excessive horn growth, reducing the occurrence of sole ulcers.  
  3. Laminitis hoof inflammation or laminitis is caused by a disturbance in blood flow, as a result of which the nutrients necessary for horn growth are lacking or due to the introduction of toxins (as in ruminal acidosis, bacterial or viral infection, mastitis, a change in rations, etc.). As a result, bleeding can be seen in the horn. Preventive measures include avoidance of stress, too much strain on the claws and sudden changes in the rations.
  4. Tyloma: occurs through prolonged irritation of the interdigital skin causing tissue to proliferate. Treatment involves removing the irritation or surgically removing the excess growth.


Preventive approach for optimum claw health

In order to successfully tackle claw problems, it is important to eliminate the risk factors as much as possible. The three main risk factors are:

  1. Infection levels
  2. Food
  3. Strain on the claws

The need to keep the infection levels as low as possible is mainly important to avoid or control infectious claw diseases. Optimal stable hygiene is essential. If the grates are not smeared with manure, the claws remain dry and clean, so that claw problems are less common. Similarly, the action of hoof baths is also more effective with clean claws. The frequency of the hoof baths is adapted to the farm situation. In addition to hygiene and hoof baths to reduce infection levels, it is also important to provide cows with an environment that is as comfortable as possible, in which there is as little stress as possible and the risk of injury (sharp corners, overcrowding, etc.) is avoided.
Besides reducing the infection levels, nutrition also plays a major role in preventing claw problems. Cows must not be allowed to become overweight or underweight. As many claw problems arise from ruminal acidosis, it is important that the rations contain sufficient roughage and that selection is not possible. Skin and horn quality can be improved by a balanced supply of vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

Finally, it is important that the cows do not have to stand for an unnecessarily long period of time. Avoid cows standing for prolonged periods in the waiting area before milking or walking on uneven surfaces to avoid excessive strain on the claws.

An overview can be found in the diagram below.


Would you like to improve claw health on your farm? Then apply the measures below. 

1. Ensure clean and dry stable floors and comfortable stalls

  • A dry environment supports the immune function of the horn and of the skin in the interdigital space and the coronary band of the foot.
  • Pressure relief of the claws during lying down improves blood flow and provides the horn-forming cells with oxygen and nutrients.

2. Treat lame cows immediately

  • The prompt treatment of lame animals increases the chance of recovery and reduces the infection levels and the risk of infection of new animals if the cause of lameness is infectious (e.g. Mortellaro)

3. Strategic claw care

  • Check the claws of all cows before removing them from the field; repeat two to three months after calving.
  • Most problems related to lameness occur during the first three months of lactation. You can prevent problems by trimming cows monthly at the start of the dry period, during the second to third months of lactation, and cows that need extra attention.
  • This gives better results than trimming the entire herd at the same time twice a year and also reduces stress.

4. Disinfecting the claws

  • Use disinfectants selectively (individual vs herd treatment), depending on the infection levels and stages of the lesions.

5. Optimise nutrition for optimum claw and skin resistance

  • Good horn quality and high-quality claw skin are important for maintaining good claw health in the herd.
  • The daily provision of optimal rations, with vitamins (biotin), minerals (calcium) and the trace elements copper, zinc, selenium and manganese, increase claw health.

6. Keep checking the physical condition of the cows

  • A body condition score of 3 to 3.5 during calving and a maximum decrease after calving of 0.5 to 1 point is recommended. Cows with a low condition are more likely to have claw problems due to a thinner fat cushion in the claw. This fat cushion absorbs shocks and ensures that the weight of the cow is properly distributed over the claw. It also indirectly stimulates the production of claw sole and horn. Cows with a negative energy balance also use this fat as a source of energy.
    Cows with too high a condition, on the other hand, put too much strain on the claws.

7. Pay attention to claw health when choosing bulls and cull cows with recurring claw problems.


Discover the range from Herbavita to prevent claw problems in cows. Our experienced advisers will be happy to visit you for customised adviceClick here to request a no-obligation information meeting. 

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