MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Functional Claw Trimming of Cattle


Paul R. Greenough

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

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

The role of the professional claw trimmer has changed significantly during the past decade. The introduction of chute-side computerized data collection is providing valuable data; however, it also requires additional training in lesion identification. Close collaboration between trimmer and veterinarian is beneficial for both as well as for the dairy industry overall.

Over time, the claws of cows wear, changing the shape of the sole, which in turn makes the foot unstable. The two claws become unbalanced both longitudinally and laterally. As changes develop in the lateral claw, it becomes “overloaded,” the heel horn may become thicker (overburdened), and posture is compromised. Therefore, the objective of trimming is to reduce excessive weight bearing on load-bearing claws.

Under normal circumstances, horn growth keeps pace with wear. The growth/wear rate at the heel is greater than at the toe. Horn that is dry tends to be extremely resistant to wear and may grow longer than normal. Thus, the claws of cattle maintained in straw yards tend to become overgrown. Conversely, the claws of cattle maintained in extremely wet conditions are softer than normal and more prone to wear and damage. If the cows are housed on concrete surfaces, the lateral hind claw tends to wear less than the medial.

If claws are routinely correctly trimmed, longevity of the herd may be extended. Trimming can be expected to decrease milk yield by up to 2 lb/day for 2 days but should be restored or even increase in a similar period. Decrease in milk yield is partly due to disruption in the cow’s feeding routine and handling. To some extent, variations in milk yield reflect on the skill of the trimmer. Trimming should be avoided in any location close to the milking parlor, and individuals handling the cows should never attempt trimming. Unskilled claw trimming will negatively affect the claw health of a herd and should be avoided. All claws should be evaluated before trimming. On average, the front (dorsal surface) wall of a hind claw measures ~7.5 cm long from apex to hair line. When the dorsal wall increases in length, the dorsal surface of the claw tends to become concave (buckles like the instep of a human shoe). This causes greater weight-bearing to be transferred to the posterior aspect of the claw, increasing pressure on the flexor process of the distal phalanx, the point beneath which sole ulcers develop. The longer the toe, the greater the stress on the flexor system. When the claws are short and the dorsal wall is >7.5 cm, there is considerable risk that the thickness of the sole at the apex will be less than the desirable 7 mm. Thinning of the apex of the sole of short-clawed animals should be avoided.

Foot trimming of every cow in a high-production, intensively managed herd is recommended every 5 mo. Recording and reporting (to the veterinarian) the types of lesions observed will prompt early treatment and timely introduction of preventive measures.

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
Others also read
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Test your knowledge
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? 
Become a Pro at using our website 

Also of Interest

Become a Pro at using our website