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CONTRIBUTOR(S): Vetstream Ltd, Paul Wood,



Laminitis is often an overused term for cattle lameness. Historically, many types of cattle foot conditions were collectively referred to as “laminitis”. As veterinary medicine has progressed, we have been able to define these individual conditions (sole ulcer, white line disease, coriosis, etc) and as such true “laminitis” is less often diagnosed.

Healthy foot ©Roger Blowey

What is laminitis?

The “laminae” are long, thin, sensitive, leaf-like projections that protrude from the inside of the hoof capsule and from the outer edge of the tissue surrounding the pedal bone (see image above – arrow 8). The leaves interlock to hold the pedal bone to the wall of the hoof and provide a large surface area which spreads the weight of the cow around the hoof capsule, rather than all the weight being focused on the end of the pedal bone.

If these laminae become inflamed, known as “laminitis”, then the foot becomes very painful, and the cow is lame. If the laminae are inflamed for too long, then they may become permanently damaged and be unable to function effectively. This results in a chronically lame cow, with a structural lameness that no amount of foot trimming will cure.

Prevention and prompt treatment of cases is therefore key.

Check out the image above of the cross section of a healthy foot for detailed anatomy:

1. The white line is the cemented junction between the wall and the sole.
2. There are no horn tubules in the white line, making it flexible but a point of weakness.
3. Pedal bone.
4. Sole.
5. Wall.
6. Heel bulb.
7. Digital cushion.
8. Lamina zone.

What are the signs of laminitis?

Acute laminitis

  • Lameness – varying from subtle to obvious.
  • Strides may be shortened.
  • Cattle may seem “tender-footed” and seek soft material to walk on.
  • All four feet are usually affected.
  • Cattle may stand in a “saw-horse” stance, or have feet tucked under the body.
  • The hoof is often warm to the touch (compare to non-lame herd-mates).
  • No obvious lesions visible on the hoof or lower limb.
  • Your vet may offer tests such as ultrasonography, radiography, thermal imaging, joint tap etc to definitively diagnose laminitis and rule out other causes of lameness.
  • A single cow may be affected if laminitis is secondary to a toxic incident, or a whole herd can be affected if a nutritional insult is the cause.

Chronic laminitis

  • Signs may be as above, but may also include a distorted claw shape, often with upper (dorsal) wall curvature

Why does it happen?

Research into the true cause of laminitis in cattle is ongoing, but current hypotheses include:

  • Inflammation of the laminae is triggered by poor blood flow to the hoof, which may be caused by various toxic or inflammatory mediators secondary to other medical or physical conditions. For example, toxic mastitis, metritis or peritonitis.
  • Over-feeding of protein and urea have been anecdotally reported as causing laminitis.
  • High sugar diets were traditionally thought to be responsible for laminitis, but the evidence base for this is weak.

Can it be treated?

Laminitis can be treated, but time is of the essence and your veterinarian should be involved from the outset.

Cattle should be provided with a soft surface to stand/walk on and the amount of walking required should be minimised.

Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and will advise you on any dietary changes that may be required. It is important that you let your veterinarian know if there have been any recent dietary changes, as this may be related to the laminitis and will help your veterinarian to advise appropriately.

Therapeutic foot trimming may be required every 3-6 months, sometimes more frequently for chronic cases.

Regular lameness scoring of herds (every 2 weeks) will help to detect complications and recurrent cases.

What’s the prognosis?

Prognosis is good if the correct treatment and management strategies are implemented quickly and any underlying conditions also treated.

Prognosis is guarded if cattle are not treated promptly and subsequently develop chronic lameness.
Some cattle may develop horizontal lines “hardship lines” around the hoof.

In rare cases the laminitis may be so severe that the hoof sloughs or severe cracks appear. These complications may occur several months after the initial insult.

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