Ruminant Population Health

Reducing lameness in dairy cattle

Furthering our understanding of the prevention and treatment of the lesions of claw horn disruption, and the role of inflammation in the development of lameness.

Lameness remains at unacceptably high levels among the UK’s dairy cattle, compromising welfare, undermining production and having a negative impact on public perceptions of the industry. As a team, we’re tackling this through an ongoing programme of applied research.

The most common causes of lameness on many farms are the lesions of claw horn disruption – principally sole haemorrhage, sole ulcer and white line disease. Despite their prevalence, their causes and prevention remain relatively poorly understood. 

Building on our research base

Within the Ruminant Population Health Research Group, we have already carried out extensive research in this field – a base which we’re now building on. Our previous work demonstrated the importance of changes to the anatomy of the foot (particularly the distal phalanx and digital cushion which lie within the hoof) as causes of claw horn disease.

The digital cushion is a pad of fat which dissipates force during foot placement, protecting other sensitive structures in the hoof. If this system of cushioning fails, our work suggests that irreversible damage occurs to the bone in the foot (and potentially to the digital cushion) making the cow more susceptible to repeated bouts of lameness.

Our recent work suggests that damage to the bone and digital cushion may be initiated by inflammation. If this is correct, targeted administration of anti-inflammatories could reduce the damage caused and represent a practical intervention for lameness control on farms. 

Spotlight project

Developing improved vaccines and treatments

This current project aims to further our understanding of the structure and function of the digital cushion and the role of inflammation in the development of lameness. We’re conducting new research using two approaches:

  • A long-term (3 year) randomised controlled clinical trial to evaluate the impact of targeted treatment with anti-inflammatories on an animal’s future lameness events
  • Using magnetic resonance imaging to provide a detailed characterisation of the digital cushion, investigating the impact of lifetime lameness events on its structure and function, and using our findings to inform prevention strategies

Revolutionising clinical understanding

Our recent work has helped revolutionise clinical understanding of the aetiopathogenesis of claw horn disease. Key findings to date include:

  • A thin digital cushion increases the likelihood of lameness and claw horn lesions
  • The digital cushion is thinnest immediately after calving, suggesting that physiological events around this time may be a key risk in the development of claw horn disease
  • The thickness of the digital cushion is positively correlated with measures of body fat and low body condition score, indicating that loss of body weight precedes lameness. Body condition loss may be a risk factor for lameness via thinning of the digital cushion, but our most recent work suggests this risk may be relatively small
  • New bone development on the caudal aspect of the distal phalanx is associated with poor locomotion and occurrence of claw horn lesions, indicating that claw horn disease leads to irreparable changes in normal foot anatomy

Funded by AHDB Dairy

Reducing lameness in dairy cattle experts

Our experts

Find out more about our staff and their fields of speciality

Read our latest publications


Read our latest publications


Ruminant Population Health

School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
University of Nottingham
Sutton Bonington Campus
Leicestershire, LE12 5RD