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Species Specific Care Information | Specific Health Care Features

Cattle Hooves and Hoof Problems


The hoof grows about 3/16 of an inch per month and completely regenerates in about 14 months. Without annual hoof trimming, hooves will become overgrown. A professional, reputable hoof trimmer should do the annual hoof trimming. A professional trimmer is able to recognize disease, injury or other problems with the hoof during trimming and can advise you on precautionary measures and treatments. A trimmer should also use equipment that minimizes the stress to the cattle while they are being trimmed. Always be available when your cattle get their feet trimmed to insure they are comfortable and as stress-free as possible, and to ask questions regarding the condition of their hooves.

Overgrown Hooves

Overgrown hooves in cattle can cause a number of problems that can lead to lameness. One of the most obvious problems is discomfort, since the overgrown hoof is not properly shaped and forces the cow to walk in a manner other than they should. Overgrown hooves are also prone to cracking, which opens up an area where bacteria can get into the system and cause infection. When a hoof is overgrown, it also becomes thinner at the ends and has a tendency to break off, which can be extremely painful and an opening for infection. When hooves are overgrown or misshapen, they throw the entire leg off balance and can contribute to gait problems in the future. Keeping hooves properly and professionally trimmed helps you avoid these problems, as well as many other conditions. Do not attempt to trim hooves yourself unless you are properly trained, since you can actually do more harm than good in some cases. If you do not know of a hoof trimmer in your area, you should contact your cooperative extension office.

Cattle Hoof Conditions

Abscesses of the Coronary Band:

The coronary band is the area at the top of the hoof that is normally soft, shiny and pink in color. It is the area between the actual hoof wall and where the hair growth of the leg begins. An abscess of the coronary band is often undetected, since this is an area where the foot gets muddy and can therefore be overlooked. On a cleaned foot, there is usually swelling and redness. If you touch the coronary band when there is an abscess, it will be painful. When a cow becomes lame, this is one of the areas that a veterinarian will most likely check.

The cause of an abscess is usually from penetration near the coronary band, but even at the sole of the foot. The infection works its way up under the wall and develops as an abscess at the coronary band. The treatment requires that the abscess drains, so it is important to call in a veterinarian who can determine the extent of the problem, open the area properly for drainage and prescribe a treatment, which usually includes antibiotics.

Unfortunately, this is not necessarily preventable through good maintenance, and is usually caused by cattle stepping on sharp rocks, etc. Making sure the area they walk in is free of other objects that can cause injury will lessen the likelihood of this condition. Cattle feet should be checked on a regular basis and cleaned so a proper examination can be done.

Hairy Wart:

Hairy Warts, or papillomatous digital dermatitis, is a contagious, painful wart-like growth caused by a micro-organism. The lesion develops on the rear of the foot, just above the interdigital cleft (easily viewed from behind the cow, at the back of the foot). In the very early stages it starts out as an open red lesion, or granulated tissue surrounded by a ring. As the lesion develops, however, it becomes more granulated and looks "hairy." The warts are sensitive to the touch and usually bleed easily.

The warts are treatable, but the treatment is very time consuming and the cure is not guaranteed. Treatments include foot bath with chemical solutions such as copper sulfate, or antibiotic solutions such as Oxytetracycline/Lincospectin. This is usually done in conjunction with an injectable antibiotic. Foot bathes are also used in prevention, working best in conjunction with a foot wash bath first. The problem with foot bathes, however, is that they have been linked to actually spreading warts, and therefore if done improperly (not cleaned enough, etc.), they can cause more harm then good.

If the infection is really bad, direct topical treatments should be used. This requires that the cow is restrained, the foot cleaned and a topical antibiotic applied to the area. For the most successful results, the foot is then wrapped in a waterproof bandage, which must be changed every 48 hours since the closed, moist environment actually can make the wart larger. This, again, can be used in conjunction with an injectable antibiotic. This method would be impossible for cattle who do not like to be handled, or become aggressive if they are scared.

The last treatment option seems to work the best, especially if the cow is a companion. This method is antibiotic sprayers, where the feet are cleaned and the antibiotic is sprayed directly on the area. They don't use this as much in dairies since there is a risk of milk contamination and human antibiotic resistance.

Because the treatment options are so difficult, the best approach is prevention. One of the most important preventative measures is to isolate any new animal who comes to your property for about a month. During this time, the new animals', feet should be checked carefully for any signs of warts. Equally important is hygiene, since the disease is more prevalent in cattle who continually walk through slurry (liquid manure). Cleaning daily will help prevent exposure to the microorganisms that cause Hairy Wart. Keeping cattle off saturated pasture and on more dry ground is also helpful. Also, catching the condition early will ensure the most prompt treatment, and therefore a better chance of correcting the condition. If you do feel your cattle have Hairy Wart, consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.