DD in Heifers Alters Claw Conformation and Increases Heel Horn Erosion

By Steve Mason on

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have demonstrated that acute (M2*) digital dermatitis (DD) in 16 – 25 month old heifers can increase heel height, claw angle and depth of the interdigital cleft. They speculate that, to reduce the discomfort caused by DD, cattle tend to stand on their toes, taking weight off their heels. This change in stance results in increased claw heel height. Since dorsal wall length remained unchanged, a significant increase in claw angle was observed in feet affected by acute (M2) DD. The increased depth of the interdigital cleft was probably due to inflammation of skin tissue and the prominence of the DD lesion in relation to the surrounding healthy skin.

Claw Dimensions measured in study

Claw Dimensions measured in study:
A – claw angle; D – dorsal wall length; H – heel depth; I – interdigital cleft depth

Another interesting finding from this study was the very large increase in severe heel horn erosion in heifers that had M2 lesions (shown in the graph below).

Effect of DD lesion on heel horn erosion

Differences observed over time in incidence of layered heel horn erosion between feet never diagnosed with digital dermatitis (blue) and feet diagnosed with a lesion after a follow-up period of 90 days (red).

Given that changes in hoof conformation usually occur before lameness is detected and that effects detected early can be reversible, active surveillance and prompt treatment of M2 lesions are recommended to improve digital dermatitis control programs and claw health.

* a description of digital dermatitis M-stages is here

source: Arturo Gomez et al., Journal of Dairy Science 98:927 (Feb 2015)

One comment

  1. In Denmark we see changes in hoof conformation in much younger heifers – down to 6-7 month in herds with digital dermatitis in 2-3 month old calves

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