Ask the Vet

Diagnosing the Reason Behind a Limp

There are many possible reasons a cow can go lame. To figure it out, start with the foot and move up. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Victoria G. Myers)

Question: Two of the cows in my herd are limping; they act like it's painful to put weight on their feet and joints. One cow has trouble with a front leg, the other with a back leg. They are otherwise healthy and eating normally. We isolated them from the rest of the herd in case it is contagious. It doesn't look like anything is broken, just initially a little swollen above the foot in the joint. Any suggestions?

Answer: With a lame animal, always start with the foot and move up. Foot rot is the most common problem creating lameness in beef cows in our area. This is an infection in the soft tissue between the toes. Swelling is usually localized to this area but, with time, can move up the leg.

But there are many other problems with the feet. I have found nails or sharp rocks in the soles of several cows during the years. Puncture wounds or founder can create subsolar abscesses or white-line disease which must be opened and drained for healing. Hoof wall cracks can, on occasion, create lameness. These can be vertical (sand cracks) or horizontal. These problems may create very little swelling in the foot, but some can be painful if the infection is confined within the closed hoof structure.

There are many other potential issues with the claws and feet, and your best course of action is to have them examined as soon as possible by your veterinarian.

(VM/CZ)