Foot problems in Cattle

One symptom with many causes

The specific cause of foot problems in cattle can be difficult to identify. It is a fact that in the past when cows spent more time on pasture, foot problems were less than in our highly intensified dairies today. With the recent good rains in certain areas, a high incidence of foot or hoof related problems were reported.It is strongly advised that you consult your veterinarian to assist in identifying and treating this multifactorial disease.



Free stall barns are more common on dairy farms these days and a problem which could lead to foot problems is the fact that the cows are on either concrete or brick surfaces for the majority of the day. Concrete surfaces generally cause more concussion to the foot than earthen surfaces. Whereas earthen surfaces absorb some of the shock associated with walking, concrete or stone transmits shock back to the foot. Extended exposure to concrete results in increased trauma to the foot such as excessive hoof wear caused by abrasive floor surfaces.

Wet environments, such as wet free stalls, tend to create soft feet. Whereas very dry environments can result in brittle hoofs predisposing feet to cracking. Cows should be allowed access to well-drained, debris-free earth for at least part of the day. This also holds true for cows on pasture – are not continuously exposed to wet or damp earth surfaces.

Stall comfort and type

A good indication of stall comfort in free stall barns (or pasture comfort on pastures) is the proportion of cows recumbent and chewing their cud, which should be about 90% plus of cows (this percentage is called the Stall Comfort Index - SCI). Divide the total number of cows lying down by the total number of cows and multiply by 100 for a percentage – if this is below 90% it could be an indication of discomfort, resulting perhaps from hurting feet.

Stage of lactation

The first 100 days after calving is the most stressful time during the cow's lactation cycle.

This is also the most likely time for metabolic disturbances with hoof problems being no exception. Almost double the expected incidence of lameness will appear during this period which could directly be related to the high concentrates received in this period, but there are many more other reasons.


The incidence of lameness increases with age. For example: cows 3-4 years of age will have a 3% incidence of lameness and cows 9-10 years old will have an incidence of 13%.

Managing the cow’s environment

If the flooring is too rough it must be smoothed out

If possible allow access to a well-drained, debris free earth lot daily

Try prevent cows from having to stand on concrete surfaces for extended periods, such as lengthy waits in holding areas before milking.

Check the Stall Comfort Index.

Foot management like trimming and foot bathing should start at a young age.



Footrot is usually associated with interdigital trauma, muddy environments and uneven surfaces (sharp stones) with secondary infection by Fusobacterium species as well as Bacteroides species. These bacteria can persist in wet soil or slurry for very long periods and are also routinely present in the rumen and colon of cattle, although not pathogenic strains. These organisms are unable to penetrate intact skin. Coarse sand or small stones in mud, can get lodged in the interdigital space, causing breaks in the interdigital skin which may predispose animals to footrot. Hygiene and dry conditions in the pens as well as footbaths can help to limit this problem.

Cows in lactation can be treated without any milk discard or concerns that the milk from the bulk tank could test positive for antibiotic residues with the antibiotic mentioned above and thus being refused by the milk buyer

Laminitis is associated with peri-partal diseases such as metritis, retained placentas, mastitis, ketosis and rumen disturbances (rumen acidosis). Diseases such as Bovine Viral Diarrhoea virus has also been implicated as a cause of laminitis.


Minerals and vitamins

Deficiencies or overfeeding of specific nutrients can cause diseases which result in lameness. These include vitamin E and D deficiency, calcium and phosphorus metabolic diseases and fluorosis (fluoride toxicity). Sulphur is a mineral critical for maintaining hoof integrity.Zinc, is a mineral that is linked to tissue integrity and the immune system and is essential for wound healing enzymes to work properly. Copper is also a component of certain enzymes and plays a major role in the synthesis of collagen, a protein that is a major component of connective tissue and bone.


High levels of protein in dairy rations have been blamed for causing leg and foot problems. The levels or types of protein and conditions under which they are fed still need to be determined.


High energy, low fibre diets alter the microbial population in the rumen. The effect is an increased growth of lactic acid producing bacteria. This causes a drop in ruminal pH, eventually leading to the condition known as acidosis.Acidosis causes the death of rumen’s gram negative bacteria releasing endotoxins. These endotoxins cause vasodilation (dilation of the blood vessels), then a vasoconstriction (constriction of the blood vessels) in the capillaries of the hoof causing swelling and great pain.

Forage particle length

Even though fibre may be adequate in the diet, particle length may not be adequate to stimulate saliva production and buffering of the rumen.

Feeding strategies

Rapid intake of large quantities of grain can cause dramatic changes in the rumen, which buffers often cannot correct. This possibility is to a large extent prevented with a Total mixed Ration (TMR).The TMR must then be a fully mixed ration, and not just partially mixed.

The above mentioned are but a few of the possibilities that can cause lameness in cattle. Please contact your veterinarian for further details.

Disclaimer: Zoetis takes no responsibility for any claims that may arise from information contained in this information sheet. Individual situations may vary from location to location and it is recommended that you consult your veterinarian before any management or treatment decisions are implemented.

Vrywaring: Zoetis neem geen verantwoordelikheid vir enige eise wat mag voortspruit uit inligting vervat in hierdie inligtingsdokument. Individuele situasies varieer van plek tot plek en dit word voorgestel dat u eers u veearts kontak alvorens enige bestuurs- of behandelingsbesluite geïmplementeer word.