Foot Abscesses in Cattle

You’ve probably hit your thumb with a hammer once or twice and it painfully swells under the nail. Cattle have the same problem when they have an abscess in their toe. The disease is most commonly seen in young cattle coming into the feedlot from wet, lush pastures. But frozen mud, concrete, and other abrasive surfaces can also break down the hoof.

AJ Tarpoff is an Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University. He says it’s hard to diagnose because the signs of a toe abscess are very non-descript.

"Early in the stages of the disease there is no swelling whatsoever. The animals are starting to display some type of discomfort and lameness, usually both rear legs are affected at the same time," says Tarpoff. "They’re obviously uncomfortable, their back might be hunched up a little bit, but you don’t see any abnormal swellings anywhere, and that’s what makes it a bit difficult to see."

Tarpoff says the best way to find the affected toe is to put the animal in a chute, and lift the foot with soft nylon rope attached to a pulley on the side of the chute. Using a pliers, put pressure on the tip of the toe. When you find the sore spot, the cow will pull its foot away, and you can begin treatment.

"With hoof nippers, we can remove just a small amount of the hoof and the sole right at the tip of the toe to allow drainage of that buildup of pressure and buildup of that abscess material that’s underneath the sole. Just tipping the very tip of the toe just enough to allow the pressure to drain, but not as much to let it bleed," he says. "That is the mainstay of our treatment."

The animal will then need an antimicrobial, and rest in a well-bedded area to fully recover.

Learn more about toe abscesses in cattle