Lameness in dairy cattle: A debilitating disease or a disease of debilitated cattle? A cross-sectional study of lameness prevalence and thickness of the digital cushion

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
R. C. Bicalho, V. S. Machado, L. S. Caixeta
Journal of Dairy Science
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Lameness is the most significant challenge for the dairy industry to overcome, given its obvious disruption of animal welfare and severe economic losses. Sole ulcers and white line abscesses are ubiquitous chronic diseases with the highest associated economic losses among all foot lesions. Their underlying causes are still not fully understood. An observational cross-sectional study was carried out to investigate the association between claw horn lesions and the thickness of the digital cushion. The thickness of the digital cushion was evaluated by ultrasonographic examination of the sole at the typical ulcer site. A total of 501 lactating Holstein dairy cows were enrolled in the study. The prevalence of sole ulcers was 4.2 and 27.8% for parity 1 and parity >1, respectively. The prevalence of white line disease was 1.0 and 6.5% for parity 1 and >1, respectively. The prevalence of lameness (visual locomotion score ≥3) was 19.8 and 48.2% for parity 1 and >1, respectively. The prevalence of sole ulcers and white line diseases was significantly associated with thickness of the digital cushion; cows in the upper quartile of digital cushion thickness had an adjusted prevalence of lameness 15 percentage points lower than the lower quartile. Body condition scores were positively associated with digital cushion thickness. The mean gray value of the sonographic image of the digital cushion had a negative linear association with digital cushion thickness (R2 = 0.14), indicating that the composition of the digital cushion may have changed with its thickness. Furthermore, digital cushion thickness decreased steadily from the first month of lactation and reached a nadir 120 d after parturition. These results support the concept that sole ulcers and white line abscesses are related to contusions within the claw horn capsule and such contusions are a consequence of the lesser capacity of the digital cushion to dampen the pressure exerted by the third phalanx on the soft tissue beneath.


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