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Heel Erosion in Cattle

(Slurry heel)


Paul R. Greenough

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

Last full review/revision Sep 2015 | Content last modified Apr 2016
Topic Resources

Heel horn erosion is seen as a change in the appearance of the surface of the bulb of the heel. Because heel horn erosion alone does not always cause lameness, the true incidence is unknown. However, subjective observations suggest that once cows have been exposed to copious slurry, the incidence of heel erosion rapidly approaches 100%. In some cows, heel horn erosion advances to a point at which complications develop and lameness may be apparent.

Etiology and Pathogenesis:

The etiology is unknown. Heel horn erosion is perhaps more commonly seen in herds in which subclinical laminitis has been diagnosed and in herds affected by digital dermatitis. It is also more commonly seen during the winter, particularly when the claws are exposed to an unhygienic, moist environment (eg, intensively managed dairy units).

Clinical Findings:

The first lesions seen are small circular erosions <0.5 cm in diameter. As the condition advances, these lesions merge, and ridges form parallel to the hair line on the axial surface of the bulb. Invariably, the color of the roughened area is black. At this stage, the cow is not lame.

In the secondary phase, the appearance of the heel varies. In some cases, there is a buildup of horn beneath the heel. Simultaneously, there may be a loss of horn under the axial part of the bulbs. The excessive accumulation of horn is often more pronounced in the lateral claw and causes the hock to turn in (cow-hocked stance). This stance resolves after therapeutic claw trimming. Generally, the condition is progressive unless corrected. The disturbance interferes with shock absorption, and the animal throws more and more weight forward. A common concurrent lesion is a sole ulcer. In other cases, erosion completely denudes the heel of horn—a process that also interferes with shock absorption and can be associated with a sole ulcer. Treponema-like organisms have been observed in microscopic samples of heel horn.

Heel horn erosion must not be confused with separation of the heel, which is the result of the escape of pus from an abscess close to the heel.

Treatment and Control:

Both heels should be reduced to the same height by paring away excess horn. Careful attention must be paid to maintaining the bearing function of the abaxial wall and sloping the sole toward the axial border.

Attention to hygiene and reduction of slurry are essential. The claws of dairy cows should be trimmed twice each year. A weekly footbath (where permitted, 3%–5% formalin), starting no later than October in the northern hemisphere, should be provided.

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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