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Toe Necrosis Syndrome 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
Topic Resources

The term toe necrosis syndrome covers three different etiologies for a condition having a similar appearance. The three different etiopathologies are not completely understood. However, Treponema-like organisms have been isolated from all of these lesions.

Etiology and Pathogenesis:

Lesion 1–As subclinical laminitis progresses, in some cases the distal phalanx will rotate. Movement of the apex of the pedal bone will cause tearing of tissues, with resultant hemorrhage. In extreme instances, the tip of the bone will prolapse through the apex of the sole. Many cows with a rotated digit also have a ridge (the reaction ridge) running around the wall. The ridge is similar in location to a hardship groove and is displaced distally in a similar manner. Osteomyelitis of the distal phalanx can be seen in complicated cases.

Lesion 2–Many cases have been reported anecdotally in which the anterior half of the sole has been worn down almost paper thin. Hemorrhage from bruising is seen through the thin horn at the apex. Breakdown of the horn and formation of an abscess have been reported. One probable cause is a painful lesion in the heel, which forces the cow to throw most of its weight onto the anterior part of the sole.

Lesion 3–The incidence of apical necrosis can be quite high in young feedlot cattle, many of which become recumbent and die of pneumonia. The condition is sporadically reported in mature cows.

The main blood supply to the digit is the very large axial digital artery, which is vulnerable to pressure from the sharp proximal edge of the axial wall. This artery connects with the terminal arch that penetrates across the bone. Necropsy reveals that necrosis occurs distal to this artery, and radiographs tend to suggest the same thing. The terminal artery marks the margin at which pathologic fractures of the distal digit can be seen.

Necrosis of the apex of the pedal bone is extremely common in yearling beef calves after transportation over long distances. In either case, it is suspected that standing for long periods is the cause. Current laws in North America require that cattle be unloaded and watered every 40–52 hr. It is thought that long periods of standing without exercise allow the blood to pool in the feet and damage the tissues. During locomotion, the coronary cushion with the aid of venous valvules functions as a pump to return blood to the general circulation.

Treatment and Control:

Treatment is cost effective only in animals with no obvious complication. The cavity should be cleansed, dried, and packed with an antibiotic powder. If no changes occur after a few days, the lesion may be covered with methyl methacrylate. If the bottom of the lesion is black, a probe should be inserted; if necrotic tissue can be detected, 1–2 cm of the apex of the toe should be removed under regional anesthesia with hoof cutters. The condition of the pedal bone should be visible. If necrosis of the bone is confirmed, a further 1–2 cm of toe should be removed. If the wound bleeds profusely, it is likely that necrosis is not extensive. When hemorrhage is minimal, it is probable that necrosis of the bone is extensive or a physiologic fracture is present. There are several reports of the toe (not the claw) having been amputated with satisfactory recovery. Systemic antibiotics and application of a lift to the sound claw is advised. If the wound is obviously contaminated, the lesion should be packed with a hygroscopic mixture (50% magnesium sulfate and 50% glycerin) and bandaged for a maximum of 24 hr, after which the lesion should be thoroughly dried, dressed with antibiotic powder, and closed with methyl methacrylate.

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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Musculoskeletal Disorders in Large Animals
A seven-year-old Quarter horse gelding presents with a 1-week history of mild lameness. During the examination, the horse raises his head as he places weight on his left forelimb and drops it when placing weight on the right forelimb. Which limb is most likely affected in this horse?
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