Dr. Dan examining a foot for toe abscesses

Toe Abscesses in Cattle

Toe Abscesses in Cattle

This article will provide industry stakeholders with knowledge to identify, treat and prevent toe abscesses in feeder cattle.

Lameness presents a significant challenge in feedlot cattle, causing notable economic losses and raising concerns for animal welfare.

Toe abscesses emerge as a prevalent issue, posing substantial difficulties for both veterinarians and feedlot managers.

Hoof Infections

Dr. Shane Terrell and others at Kansas State University conducted a survey among feedlot operators, veterinarians, and nutritionists.

In the survey, participants were asked to identify the risk factors for infectious and noninfectious lameness in cattle.

Infectious causes encompass foot rot and digital dermatitis (hairy heel wart), while non-infectious causes include sole abscesses and toe abscesses.

Understanding these distinctions is critical for implementing targeted prevention and treatment measures.

Dr. Dan examining a foot for toe abscesses

What are the risk factors for hoof infections?

When asked about the common risk factors associated with infectious lameness cases in feedlot cattle, feedlot managers, veterinarians, and nutritionists identified pen cleaning, environmental conditions, and weather.

The survey respondents identified risk factors associated with non-infectious lameness, such as toe abscesses, as cattle temperament, poor cattle handling practices, and the working surfaces within the facility.

Cattle Hoof Problems

Toe abscesses primarily occur on the hind limb’s medial claw and are frequently observed in animals experiencing higher stress levels and exhibiting worse temperament, often attempting to move towards the center of the herd.

This behavior, combined with the risk factors identified above, helps explain why less docile cattle administered aggressive cattle handling on concrete flooring would lead to increased toe abscess prevalence in feedlot cattle.

Accurate identification of lame animals is crucial for timely intervention.

Locomotion scoring serves as a valuable tool for assessing cattle mobility and detecting signs of

By systematically evaluating gait abnormalities and discomfort indicators, pen riders and feedlot managers can pinpoint affected animals and initiate appropriate diagnostic procedures early
in the injury or disease process.

How to inspect a hoof for infection

A proper diagnosis at this stage can result in significant time and cost savings.

Once in the chute, the affected leg needs to be secured and lifted to perform a proper exam.

To begin, inspect the skin area between the claws of the lame animal for signs
of inflammation due to a foot rot infection.

Foot rot infections emit foul odors due to the bacteria that cause the infections being anaerobic.

If there are no lesions between the toes, examine the back of the skin area of the heel above the hoof’s coronary band for strawberry-like lesions, which may suggest hairy heel wart or digital dermatitis.

If neither foot rot nor hairy heel wart is detected by visual inspection, hoof testers need to be employed to examine soreness in a claw.

Soreness throughout the hoof could indicate a toe abscess, whereas tenderness localized to a specific isolated area may indicate a sole abscess.

The reaction to the hoof testers can be a strong jerk that retracts the foot or it can be a more subtle flinching when pressure is applied to the area of the hoof inflicted.

Hoof Health

Here are two important considerations to bear in mind regarding hoof health.

Firstly, the coronary band is the junction where the skin and hair meet the hard hoof wall.

The hoof wall grows downward from the coronary band, similar to how our fingernails grow forward from the nailbed.

Secondly, the bottom of the hoof is the sole. The sole grows outward from the soft sole bed underneath the hoof.

So, the hoof wall and the hoof sole are two separate tissues that meet together.

dog looking at cattle through fence

What Causes Toe Abscesses in Cattle?

The sole and hoof wall comprise the main components of the hoof, with the white line marking the junction between the hard hoof casing and the sole.

This white line is susceptible to separation, particularly when cattle exert pressure, such as when they push on hard concrete surfaces.

This can lead to the ingress of manure into the hoof cavity, potentially causing issues like toe abscesses.

These abscesses, once thought to be sterile, are now understood to be caused by pressure-induced separation of the white line.

Manure entering the cavity can lead to infection, which, if left untreated, can result in deterioration of the coffin bone.

The infection may manifest as abscesses around the toe area, and if not drained, can travel upward breaking through just above the coronary band or travel up the leg’s lymphatic system, affecting areas such as the hock, stifle, and hip.

How do you treat Toe Abscesses in Cattle?

Unfortunately, these cases can be challenging to treat effectively. Cattle will exhibit locomotion issues but many times the discomfort of the toe abscess might not be immediately apparent until lameness becomes pronounced.

By this point, significant damage to the coffin bone may have already occurred. There is still a lot to know about treating toe abscesses.

Currently, options to treat toe abscesses include doing nothing, tipping the end of the toe, or removing the entire claw.

Since most toe abscesses occur on the hind limbs, where cattle carry 40% of the body weight compared to the front limbs carrying 60% of the animal’s body weight, tipping toes and removing claws may yield better outcomes.

It’s advisable to enlist the assistance of a veterinarian for this procedure if claws are going to be removed.

Trimming Cow Hoof

When tipping the toe, it should only be trimmed back enough to release a small amount of blood.

Anything more risks creating a hole that can become packed with manure, impeding healing.

By trimming to just a pinhole, the infected debris can be expelled when the animal steps down, though precautions should be taken to prevent further contamination.

Preventing Toe Abscesses

Key strategies for preventing toe abscesses include addressing flooring issues and employing low-stress cattle handling.

It is important to understand the docility of cattle, as flighty cattle temperament is a significant risk factor for toe abscesses.

Rubber mats and bedding in cattle working facilities can improve cushioning and minimizing abrasion or splitting of the while line through low-stress cattle handling.

Toe abscesses represent a significant challenge in feedlot operations, impacting both animal health and productivity.

By adopting a proactive stance towards lameness management and prioritizing preventative strategies, veterinarians and feedlot managers can safeguard the welfare of their cattle while minimizing economic losses.

Collaboration with veterinarians and adherence to best practices are essential for promoting optimal hoof health and overall well-being.

Check out the DocTalk Toe Abscess Episode

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