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Degenerative Arthropathy in Cattle


Paul R. Greenough

, FRCVS, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Last full review/revision Sep 2015 | Content last modified Sep 2015

This nonspecific condition affecting mainly the hip and stifle is characterized by degeneration of articular cartilage and eburnation of subchondral bone, joint effusion, and fibrosis with calcification of the joint capsule.


Many causes and predisposing factors influence the development of degenerative joint lesions. There is almost certainly an inherited predisposition to the condition. Certain conformations, eg, straight hocks in beef bulls, are also incriminated. Joint instability after trauma is a common cause. Nutritional factors involved in some cases, such as rations high in phosphorus and low in calcium, influence the strength of subchondral bone. Copper deficiency or fluoride poisoning also may act similarly. Forced traction of a calf in breech presentation can impede the blood supply to the hip joint, and arthritis may result. The role of infection is unclear. Infectious arthritis in calves usually produces severe changes in the hock, but degenerative arthropathy rarely involves this joint.

Bulls fed high-grain diets for show may become lame when as young as 6–12 mo, but most cases are first noticed at 1–2 yr.

Clinical Findings:

Onset is gradual (later in bulls), and both hip joints are usually affected; stifle involvement is rare. Lameness to the point of incapacitation, with crepitation of degenerate joints, may develop in a few months; however, correlation between pathologic changes and clinical signs is poor. The earliest changes occur in the acetabulum and on the dorsomedial surface of the femoral head.

In the stifle, the medial condyle of the femur shows the earliest changes. Because degenerative arthropathy may result from any of several initiating factors, a specific diagnosis may be difficult.

Radiographic, cytologic, and microbiologic evaluation of the synovial fluid are useful diagnostic aids. Arthroscopy of articular surfaces and ligaments may help attain a definitive diagnosis and prognosis.


Changes in the joints are usually irreversible by the time of diagnosis. Palliative treatment of valuable breeding animals should be undertaken with the knowledge that the condition or predisposing factors may be inherited. The diet should be carefully analyzed and, if necessary, corrected. This is especially important in fast-growing animals, in which adequate exercise is indicated and overfinishing should be avoided.

Lameness in Cattle
Overview of Lameness in Cattle
Physical Examination of a Lame Cow
Locomotion Scoring in Cattle
Computerized Recording of Digital Lesions in Cattle
Distal Digital Anesthesia for Diagnostic and Surgical Procedures in Cattle
Radiography in Cattle
Arthrocentesis and Arthroscopy in Cattle
Risk Factors Involved in Herd Lameness of Cattle
Footbaths of Cattle
Functional Claw Trimming of Cattle
Prevalent Lameness Disorders in Intensively Managed Herds of Cattle
Digital Dermatitis in Cattle
Pododermatitis Circumscripta in Cattle
White Line Disease in Cattle
Toe Necrosis Syndrome in Cattle
Sole Hemorrhage in Cattle
Thin Sole in Cattle
Heel Erosion in Cattle
Other Disorders of the Interdigital Space in Cattle
Interdigital Dermatitis in Cattle
Interdigital Phlegmon in Cattle
Interdigital Hyperplasia in Cattle
Disorders of the Horn Capsule and Corium in Cattle
Laminitis in Cattle
Double Sole in Cattle
Foreign Body in Sole of Cattle
Vertical Fissures in Cattle
Horizontal Fissures in Cattle
Corkscrew Claw in Cattle
Slipper Foot in Cattle
Disorders of the Bones and Joints in Cattle
Ankylosing Spondylosis in Cattle
Degenerative Arthropathy in Cattle
Coxofemoral Luxation in Cattle
Patellar Luxation in Cattle
Fetlock Dislocation in Cattle
Hip Dysplasia in Cattle
Fractures in Cattle
Septic Arthritis of the Distal Interphalangeal Joint in Cattle
Serous Tarsitis in Cattle
Neurologic Disorders Associated with Lameness or Gait Abnormalities in Cattle
Suprascapular Paralysis in Cattle
Radial Paralysis in Cattle
Ischiatic Paralysis in Cattle
Obturator Paralysis in Cattle
Femoral Paralysis in Cattle
Peroneal Paralysis in Cattle
Tibial Paralysis in Cattle
Spastic Syndrome in Cattle
Spastic Paresis in Cattle
Soft-tissue Disorders Causing Lameness in Cattle
Carpal Hygroma in Cattle
Rupture of the Gastrocnemius Muscle in Cattle
Rupture of the Peroneus Tertius Muscle in Cattle
Tarsal Cellulitis in Cattle
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The lameness examination is an important method to identify musculoskeletal abnormalities. Which of the following abnormalities is NOT observed during a physical and lameness exam? 
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