Ask the Vet

Lame, Better, Lame Again

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READER: I have a bull that has been limping on a rear leg for about a month. I gave him antibiotics twice. Both times, he got better but went lame again. His outside claw is swollen, and there is red, nasty tissue at the heel. What do I need to do for him?

DR. McMILLAN: First, let me stress it's always important to lift the foot and look before you give antibiotics. Not all lameness is due to foot rot.

We have found roofing nails, wire, rocks, puncture wounds and other objects in the sole of the foot or between the claws. Sole bruising, draining tracts or abscesses under the sole are common causes of lameness. Founder or laminitis, fractures of the small bones in the claw and sprains are other noninfectious causes of lameness. In many of these cases, antibiotics are just not indicated.

What you are describing sounds like an infection that started at the heel and worked its way under the sole. Alternatively, it may be an infection that started under the sole and worked its way out at the heel. In either case, infection is now trapped inside the claw. That is creating pain. In some cases, this pain can be extreme and lead to lameness.

If your veterinarian has a tilt table, it will make evaluation and treatment much easier. Treatment must focus on removing damaged sole tissue so the infection can drain. If only one claw is affected, a hoof block can be glued onto the unaffected claw. This lifts the affected claw, removing the source of pain. This is extremely important in the healing process. These types of cases require both antibiotics and pain medications.


-- Please contact your veterinarian with questions pertaining to the health of your herd. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

-- Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask The Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email


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