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Common infections and injuries that cause lameness

Following on from a recent article where we outlined the best way to identify lameness, we now turn to the common causes of lameness, including infections and claw injuries.

Research from Teagasc shows that between 20-35% of cows suffer some degree of lameness.

Where these high figures are reached, lameness will affect the overall production of a herd.

Farmers need to be aware of the triggering signs and act quickly to treat the cause of lameness.


Firstly, looking at infections, dermatitis/Mortellaro is quite common in Irish dairy herds. Initially, it can appear like a red rash on the skin near the hoof or space between the hooves.

It then develops into extensive skin loss and scabbing around the cleft between the claws and on the heel. Dermatitis/Mortellaro is highly infectious and causes great pain to the animal. To prevent Dermatitis/Mortellaro, farmers should carry out regular foot baths. For effective use, ensure that feet are cleaned before walking through the bath.


This is another infection that can cause lameness in animals. Footrot is caused by bacteria entering the foot through cracks in the skin.

This usually occurs in dirty conditions. Farmers should watch out for swelling above the hoof, splayed claws, and a foul-smelling secretion between the claws.

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Footrot treatment requires antibiotics. Should a farmer suspect that an animal has foot rot, they should contact a hoofcare professional immediately.

Claw injures/bruising

Claw injures also causes issues within a herd. Farmers should watch for sole bruising or ulcers. Bruising can appear with red/purple discolouration at the foot. This usually appears two months after the initial injury.

Freshly calved cows are more susceptible to bruising, so farmers must remain vigilant at this time. Cows with bruising should be kept in paddocks close to the parlour.

Bad bruising can lead to ulcers. Ulcers occur when the tissue under the hoof becomes inflamed and can break through the horn.

To treat ulcers, farmers should contact a hoof care professional to trim the excess horn from around the ulcer, apply a shoe to the opposite claw, and apply a topical antibiotic.

White Line

This is another disease farmers should be aware of. White Line occurs when dirt and small stones penetrate the heel, causing a haemorrhage into or separation (avulsion) of the abaxial wall (heel-sole junction).

Farmers must seek treatment for their animals to get rid of White Line disease. Treatment involves hoof paring, removing dirt and stones, providing drainage for any infection, and removing weight from the affected area.


Lastly, laminitis is where claws become overgrown, and the horn becomes weak. The foot can appear with high heels, long toes, and misshaped soles.

Also known as ‘founder’, cattle who stand for long times on wet or pitted concrete or are concentrate fed are more susceptible.

Once again, if an animal shows signs of laminitis, call a hoofcare professional as soon as possible, so the infection does not worsen.

Hoofcare routine

To prevent the above illnesses and infections, we recommend that farmers engage in a regular hoof care routine.

In addition, keep yards, holding areas and walkways clean and regularly scrapped and avoid having animals walk or wait on uneven ground. Remain vigilant for signs of lameness and contact a professional should any of the above symptoms appear.

FRS provides an expert hoof care service to farmers. FRS operators are following the current Covid 19 guidelines to safeguard the health and safety of customers and themselves.

More information

You can find out more about hoofcare. Alternatively, you can read FRS’ other articles.

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