Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Computerized Recording of Digital Lesions in Cattle


Paul R. Greenough

, FRCVS, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Last review/revision Sep 2015 | Modified Oct 2022

Recording foot lesions by hoof trimmers is one of the most valuable advances in hoof health care and can be used to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. In many cases, the data indicate the risk factors to be investigated. Any defect in the animal's environment that leads to some stress or foot abnormality is considered a risk factor. When a risk factor has been identified, control measures can be instituted before the problem becomes difficult to control. Lameness in cattle is a clinical sign of pain with many possible causes that require investigation. Methods to record lesions and rating severity are not yet standardized, but computer programs are available. In many countries, as many as one-third of hoof trimmers can provide this service and accurately identify and describe the severity of foot lesions.

In one survey, 86% of lesions recorded were found in the lateral claw of hindlimbs and 14% in the forelimbs; 73% of forelimb lesions were observed in the medial claw.

The National Database in Denmark also contains information about milk yield, reproductive status, health, etc. The prevalence of lesions must be interpreted carefully, because not every cow with a lesion will show signs of lameness. However, an abnormally high incidence of lesions may forecast lameness to come. The findings would indicate the urgency with which preventive measures should be implemented. The incidence of lesions varies considerably between countries and between regions of the same country. Lesion incidence also changes with different management system practices (eg, tie stall and free stall) as well as with variations during seasons of the year.

The annual herd incidence of lameness can be extremely high; in unique cases as many as 60% of the cows are affected at least once. However, even a 10%–15% incidence represents a significant economic loss.

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