Lameness is regarded by many as the most painful condition affecting cattle. Due to its prevalence, lameness is probably the major animal welfare issue affecting the species. In some herds, 60% of cows can be found lame on at least one occasion each year. The highest incidence of lameness is seen in high-production, intensively managed dairy cattle. It is probably equal in importance to reproductive inefficiency to which it is now known to be closely related.
Lameness causes economic losses. A recent estimate suggests that, on average, an individual case of lameness costs the dairy operation ∼$400. This estimate includes the cost of veterinary services and medication, as well as the time spent nursing the lame cow. In addition, the loss of milk (due to pain or antibiotic therapy) must be considered. At least 10% of cows are culled for reasons related to lameness. Rearing replacement heifers is expensive, and the replacement animal is not as productive as a mature cow.
Lameness in cattle is a clinical sign with many possible etiologies. Protocols for investigating the causes of herd lameness are not as well advanced as are those related to reproductive dysfunction and mastitis; therefore, controlling the problem is also much more difficult.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Paul R. Greenough, FRCVS