Lameness: lesions of cows’ feet

Recognising why your cows are lame is important for their treatment, as well as preventing it in the future. Find out how to identify lameness and check your herd’s foot health.

Identify lesions quickly

If left untreated, some causes of lameness can become severe and irreversible. Damage to foot bone can lead to lameness in the future and lameness due to infectious diseases can spread through the herd very quickly. Plus, cows walking incorrectly can affect staff morale and the wider image of dairy farming. 

  • Many foot conditions in dairy cows can be caused by a combination of several factors, but it is often possible to identify the major causes, particularly where the problem is prevalent on a farm
  • Sole ulcers, white line disease and digital dermatitis are recognised as 'the big three' mobility conditions seen on dairy farms in the UK, but there are several other common problems seen on a regular basis
  • Several different lesions and problems can be present on a single foot at any one time. More severe problems, involving deep joint infections and necrotic toes, for instance, must be dealt with by the vet

Can lameness be prevented?

Correctly identifying and treating the lesions in your lame cows will reduce lameness now, and prevent it reoccurring in the future, by guiding your herd health plan. It is important that herdspeople can distinguish between the various problems, even if a foot-trimming specialist is used or the farm vet routinely examines lame cows. Some conditions, such as digital dermatitis, may be due to infectious illness where prompt attention can easily control the potential spread of infection.

The picture below indicates the four key success factors for healthy feet, which are applicable across a range of different foot diseases and conditions. It is important to know which success factors are pertinent for which disease and adjust your management of a lame cow accordingly.

Never wait to treat a lame cow.

Non-infectious claw horn lesions

Recognising lesions caused by physical factors, like weight distribution and hoof shape.

Find out how to identify non-infectious lesions

Infectious and non-infectious (mixed) claw horn lesions

Non-infectious lesions can become infected and worsen, but there are things you can do to help.

Information on infectious and non-infectious (mixed) lesions

Infectious claw horn lesions 

Infectious diseases can spread from animal to animal and from one foot to another, so recognising them early is key.

Learn more about infectious claw horn lesions

Less-common claw horn lesions

Uncommon but important lesions to look out for in your cattle, such as toe necrosis and toe ulcers.

Read more about less-common lesions

When to involve the vet with lameness cases

Deep infections and interdigital growths are some of the conditions a vet will need to see. Find out which lesions are likely to require veterinary help.

When to involve the vet

The anatomy of a cow’s foot

An understanding of the anatomy of the cow foot helps us to prevent and treat lameness.

Find out what does what in a cow’s foot

Useful links

Lameness in dairy cows

Diseases affecting dairy cows

Lesion recognition and trouble shooter guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of the Lesion recognition and trouble shooter guide, please contact or call 0247 799 0069.