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Beef cattle lameness

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Apr 01, 2005

Management of beef cattle lameness can be frustrating for veterinarians and producers. But compared to our one-toed equine patients, we have two toes to work with on each foot. This presents some treatment and pain-management options not available for all species. The following article details treatment options I've become familiar with in practice.


Lameness is a common problem presented to bovine practitioners and has been known to cause great economic loss.
Hoof block A wooden, plastic or rubber hoof block removes the source of pain by preventing weight bearing on the effected claw and allows the animal to ambulate comfortably while healing takes place. This is effective for treatment of P3 fracture and is essential for treatment of sole ulcers and serious hoof cracks. Blocks 1 inch to 2 inches thick, cut to fit the shape of the claw with grooves on both sides, are glued to the hoof using some type of bonding material.

There are plenty of material options available, but preparation of the claw is crucial. Make sure the claw is clean, dry and level. Shallow grooves can be made in the sole with a hoof knife, but they are not necessary in my opinion. Bonding materials can set up quickly, so have everything ready. In cold, wet weather, a hair dryer helps to quicken setup. When applying the acrylic, pay particular attention to the axial surface, making sure its smooth and will not irritate the interdigital space or the axial surface of the opposite claw. Do not spread the acrylic onto the coronary band or up to the soft part of the heel. Make sure the block is positioned so the animal does not rock back on its heel and the toe does not tip up.

Caution: If the lameness worsens with the hoof block on, remove it immediately. If the animal develops lameness after wearing the block for several days, re-evaluation of the lameness is indicated. The hoof block might be causing it. Also, heat produced during the hardening process can cause thermal necrosis of soft tissues under the hoof wall. Use bonding materials sparingly on the hooves of young calves.


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Acrylic also can be used alone or in combination with wire to repair hoof-wall defects. However, the hoof defect must be clean, dry and free of infection before the acrylic can be placed over it.

Anesthesia options Intravenous local anesthesia is my preferred technique for surgical procedures of the foot and pastern. Although clipping is not necessary, a surgical scrub should be performed prior to injection. A tourniquet is placed proximal to the fetlock immediately prior to injection (vein will be distended best immediately after tourniquet is placed). Two sites of injection are available. One vein runs down the center of the dorsal aspect of the pastern and the other runs approximately 2 cm dorsal to the dewclaw on the lateral and medial sides of the foot. A 20-gauge needle or butterfly catheter is inserted into the vein, and 15cc to 20cc of lidocaine is administered. It is only necessary to block one of these veins to provide anesthesia to the entire area distal to the tourniquet. The tourniquet can be safely left on for up to one hour to provide hemostasis during surgical procedures.

In feet with severe cellulitis, local intravenous anesthesia can be difficult. In these cases, a four-point nerve block or a simple ring block also will work (see "Beef cattle lameness: diagnostic strategies," in DVM Newsmagazine's February issue). The two interdigital injections performed in the four-point block can be used for removal of an interdigital fibroma.