Cattle lameness – Are we doing more harm than good?

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Articles, Bovine, News, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Considering when, and if, we should reach for the conventional fabric bandage.

Approximately 30 % of the UK dairy herd is lame at any one time1. Therefore, proper foot care and effective treatment protocols for the common causes of bovine lameness have never been more important. The fabric bandage, or footwrap, has been a mainstay in the toolbox of farmers, foot trimmers and vets for a long time. However, in some conditions this approach may be causing more harm than good. Deciding whether to bandage or not to bandage is an important choice we all must make when presented with an affected foot.

Sole ulcers:

Defined as a penetration through the sole horn such that fresh and/or necrotic corium is exposed. Various approaches to managing sole ulcers have been described in the literature during the last forty years. A therapeutic trim and the application of a block to the unaffected claw is standard practice, but debate arises regarding how we approach the claw with the sole ulcer.

In a 2019 study2, it was demonstrated that faster resolution of sole ulcers was observed when the affected claw was decontaminated and had an antiseptic barrier applied, rather than a conventional bandage. 59.4 % of non-bandaged sole ulcers had healed within four weeks compared with 29.2 % of bandaged sole ulcers. The authors further demonstrated that bandaging was detrimental to sole ulcer healing, and 25% of bandages were lost anyway! Barn housed cows in America have also been shown to have delayed healing of sole ulcers when bandages are applied3. Therefore, when effective resolution of the sole ulcer can be achieved without the expense (in both time and money) of applying bandages, it would seem judicious not to use them.

Digital dermatitis:

Whilst many different pathogens have been cultured from digital dermatitis lesions, one thing that is common across all of them is that they proliferate best in anaerobic, wet environments. This kind of environment can be made worse on the foot when a fabric bandage is applied and contaminated by water, or slurry, from the under-foot environment.

A large-scale Canadian study4 involving over 200 cases of digital dermatitis compared a topical paste with antibiotic-powder below a footwrap bandage, and no treatment at all. They found that topical paste provided better healing than antibiotic powder below a wrapped bandage, suggesting that we can manage these cases without risking additional contamination of the wound through a bandage which can act as a nidus for infection once it becomes wet and contaminated with slurry.

With cases of digital dermatitis being painful to the cow during both the infected and healing phases, not having to apply a footwrap, and then elevate the foot for its removal, can reduce a portion of the pain associated with this disease.

Many of us will use topical antibiotic sprays to treat cases of digital dermatitis, and the principle behind this is sound. However, we now know that digital dermatitis within the interdigital cleft is significantly less responsive to an antibiotic spray than digital dermatitis around the heel5. Additionally, there is much debate regarding the length of course required with protocols ranging from a single spray until lesions resolve, to twice-a-day spraying for twenty-one days.

One problem we must consider with the use of a water-based oxytetracycline spray is that it loses its efficacy when exposed to water or slurry. This means that our antibiotic sprays may be of limited use on many dairy farms where underfoot conditions mean that this cannot be entirely prevented. Therefore, repeated application of topical oxytetracycline sprays must be performed, increasing the cost of these cases (in both time and money)5.

Interestingly, newer research shows us that topical antibiotics may not always be required in cases of digital dermatitis. On organic farms a barrier product containing copper ions has been shown to reduce lesion size, pain, and lameness in affected cows without the need for antibiotics6. As we work to further reduce our use of antimicrobials on farm, it will be important to understand and utilise alternative approaches in the management of clinical cases of digital dermatitis.

White line defect:

Rounding out the ‘big 3’ causes of foot-related lameness in our dairy cattle are white line defects. Simple defects can be managed with a therapeutic trim, blocking the contralateral claw, and when required applying a topical barrier gel to any uninfected puncture sites. Using a conventional fabric bandage would only serve to increase the risk of tracking infection into the foot.

More complicated cases where pus, or other infected material, can be expressed may require veterinary involvement and antibiotics as well as a corrective trim & blocking the contralateral claw. If you can trim far enough back that no further pus is seen then a topical barrier gel may be appropriate, if pus is still draining then it is best to leave this open to drain.

Find more information and advice here..


Anyone involved in foot care on farm should possess a sound knowledge of the major causes of foot-related lameness, and we must seriously consider in each case seen whether applying a conventional fabric bandage will do more harm than good. Alongside NSAIDs, newer developments including barrier gels will be more appropriate in many cases.


  1. Griffiths, B.E., Grove White, D. and Oikonomou, G. (2018) ‘A cross-sectional study into the prevalence of dairy cattle lameness and associated herd-level risk factors in England and Wales’, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 5. doi:10.3389/fvets.2018.00065.
  2. Klawitter, M., Braden, T.B. and Müller, K.E. (2019) ‘Randomized clinical trial evaluating the effect of bandaging on the healing of sole ulcers in dairy cattle’, Veterinary and Animal Science, 8, p. 100070. doi:10.1016/j.vas.2019.100070.
  3. Shearer, J.K., Plummer, P. and Schleining, J. (2015) ‘Perspectives on the treatment of claw lesions in cattle’, Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports, p. 273. doi:10.2147/vmrr.s62071.
  4. Cutler, J.H.H. et al. (2013) ‘Randomized clinical trial of tetracycline hydrochloride bandage and paste treatments for resolution of lesions and pain associated with digital dermatitis in dairy cattle’, Journal of Dairy Science, 96(12), pp. 7550–7557. doi:10.3168/jds.2012-6384.
  5. Laven, R.A. and Logue, D.N. (2006) ‘Treatment strategies for digital dermatitis for the UK’, The Veterinary Journal, 171(1), pp. 79–88. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2004.08.009.
  6. Paudyal, S. et al. (2020) ‘Efficacy of non-antibiotic treatment options for digital dermatitis on an organic dairy farm’, The Veterinary Journal, 255, p. 105417. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2019.105417.