Ask the Vet

Diagnosing a Limp

It's not always clear what's causing a limp in cattle. Possibilities include foot rot, puncture wounds or something as simple as a sprain.(DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Holly Kuper)


I have a young cow that is limping. She had a bad limp in her right front leg, but it went away for a couple of days and then came back. Now it's getting worse. There are no visible cuts or swelling. It seems to be in her hoof. What do I need to do? Is there something I can give her by mouth to help?


The first thing to consider is foot rot. With foot rot, there will be some irritation or swelling between the toes. This condition can cause a lot of pain. I usually treat foot rot with long-acting injectable antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. With more severe infections, I wrap the foot with an antibiotic powder and an old drawing compound called Ichthammol.

Sometimes, the reason for a limp is as simple as having something in the hoof. I have removed tacks and nails, especially big-headed roofing nails, from cows' feet. So take a look and see if she has managed to step on something.

Puncture wounds, where the sharp object comes out, can lead to a subsolar abscess. Pus (sometimes gas) builds up between the sole and the sensitive tissue above it, leading to severe pain. A similar problem can occur if an infection starts at the heel and moves forward under the sole. Treating subsolar abscesses means removal of the damaged sole to relieve pressure and to allow the infection to drain out. I use antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to treat and often apply an Ichthammol wrap. In severe cases, a hoof block can be applied to keep pressure off the painful area.

Last on my list of possible reasons for the limp is the simplest: Cows can sprain a foot or leg, or bruise a foot, just like we can. There may be few or no outward signs of injury in these cases. And time will generally take care of the problem.