Veterinary Handbook Disease Finder



Cattle are the main species of interest.



Lameness refers to changes in posture, stance or gait to relieve pain in the limbs or trunk. It must be differentiated from ataxia resulting from peripheral or central nervous system disease or muscular weakness from systemic conditions. 

Lameness can be difficult to detect in crowded pen conditions. It is easier to diagnose when there are swellings, abrasions and non-weight bearing in single limbs. Floor design and management of pens greatly influence the number and severity of lameness cases. 

Early detection and management of lameness is important. Any condition may become life threatening if it worsens to the point where an animal can no longer move effectively or becomes a downer. Most lameness in export cattle involves the foot (especially the lateral claws of the hind limbs) because they are subjected to the most wear from twisting and turning.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis

Lame cattle can be identified by swollen and/or non-weight-bearing limbs, reluctance to move or prolonged recumbency. One or more feet and legs may be affected. Systemic signs occur when pain is severe or access to feed and water is affected. Inspect the limbs of recumbent cattle carefully because animals may spend more time lying down if they are lame, and particularly if multiple limbs are affected. Decubital ulcers and a tail with a depleted brush may indicate the animal has been down for prolonged periods.

The most likely causes of lameness in export cattle and other ruminants include:

  • Solar abscesses, bruised soles and decubitus ulcers from excessive wear on abrasive flooring
  • Traumatic injuries, from slipping, trampling or being mounted.
  • Footrot, when conditions underfoot are constantly wet and damaging to interdigital skin
  • Infectious arthritis caused by organisms such as Mycoplasma bovis, Histophilus somni and Chlamydiosis - joint swelling and lameness are part of the disease complex caused by these pathogens.
  • Other conditions such as scabby mouth (orf virus) and selenium deficiency may be unlikely causes of lameness in sheep and goats.


Relocate the affected animal to a hospital pen and provide bedding and uninhibited trough access. Administer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (flunixin meglumine, ketoprofen, meloxicam, or tolfenamic acid) and antibiotics if appropriate (procaine penicillin, oxytetracycline, erythromycin, ceftiofur, trimethoprim sulpha, or tylosin).


Lameness can often be prevented by quiet handling of livestock and matching pen mates on sex and size. Check flooring for hazards such as broken anti-slip mesh or holes, and abrasiveness. Avoid forced walking for long distances on abrasive surfaces. Design laneways in yards and on ships with minimal cornering.