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Septic Arthritis of the Distal Interphalangeal Joint 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

Most frequently, one of the causal lesions is present and the transition from the initial lesion to the joint infection is readily apparent. However, when a swollen foot is treated before the cause has been established, a joint infection may have been ongoing for weeks before the true nature of the condition is diagnosed. If aggressive treatment of a footrot case does not lead toward resolution within 3 days, septic arthritis should be suspected. Increased pain, together with swelling of the anterior region of the coronary band in cases of sandcrack and white line disease, is suggestive of joint infection. Using regional analgesia and strict aseptic technique, an aspirate of the joint can be collected and examined for infection. A radiograph may indicate an abnormal separation of the joint surfaces.


Infection enters the distal interphalangeal joint via three possible main sites: 1) the dorsal commissure of the interdigital space, via penetrating trauma or complicated footrot (interdigital phlegmon); 2) sandcracks; or 3) white line disease or retroarticular abscess.


Digital amputation is indicated in animals that have a limited life expectancy, eg, old or poor-producing animals. The procedure is simple, quick, can be performed in standing animals under regional analgesia, and in most cases, produces rapid relief. Amputation is performed through the skin with an embryotomy wire placed as close to the skin-horn junction as possible. Hemorrhage is arrested by means of a tight bandage.

Alternatively, in the case of valuable animals, arthrodesis to fuse the distal and middle phalanges may be attempted. General anesthesia is recommended. A 1-cm canal is drilled through the abaxial wall into the joint, and a second canal is drilled from the causal lesion into the joint. The joint cavity is enlarged by curettage, and a drainage tube drawn through. Continuous irrigation with sterile saline should be performed for 2–3 days. A wooden block is then applied to the sound claw and the affected digit immobilized by fixing it to the block with methyl methacrylate. Immobilization is further facilitated by encasing the digital region in a cast. The cast is removed after 4 wk.

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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