News & Advice

Claw amputation – a last resort to manage lameness in an infected hoof

Mar 7, 2023 | Dairy, Lameness

Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian and Health Hoof Advisor, Anexa Vet Services

The claw of a cow is a complicated structure. Inside the wall and sole (the structures you mainly treat) are the internal components including multiple bones as well as the supportive tissues consisting of tendons, nerves and blood supply. There is also joint fluid and, most notably, the essential germinal layer called the corium – a very thin, fragile layer of cells just a few millimetres in thickness responsible for the growth of the sole.

Diagram of the foot structure and hoof suspensory apparatus.


This finely tuned environment can get damaged when the hoof is out of balance (overgrown hooves, cows ‘rocking back’ on their heels), or from trauma or infection as well as external factors, such as stones under the claw or between the toes.

Treatment of any lame cow should be aimed at restoring balance; this is also what we are trying to achieve by being proactive with preventative hoof trimming. Achieving perfect balance is not always easy, as sometimes it’s hard to gauge how deep to cut/trim or where the principal lesions are located. When the problem is not solved adequately, the imbalance continues leading to irreversible changes to the claw.

For example, if white line disease progresses into the joint The infection tracks into the joint causing a joint infection The infection penetrates the tendon which normally supports the claw and holds it square to the ground Without the support of the tendon, the claw is permanently lifted, causing a lot of pain in the process and ongoing claw trouble to the cow.

At this stage, the damage is beyond conventional treatment, meaning the only options are either pet food (cow too lame to go on the truck) or claw amputation. While every vet would rather not have an animal that gets to this point, this may be a viable option if the cow is otherwise healthy.


What is a claw amputation, and how does this surgery affect the cow and its well-being?

Claw amputation is used as a last resort to treat an infection that is localised to one claw. The surgery removes the entire claw, leaving the cow to stand on her remaining healthy claw on that hoof. By removing the damaged claw, the infection is removed, which in turn reduces pain and inflammation.


What is the projected future of a cow with an amputated claw?

As long as the infection hasn’t progressed too far and the wound heals as it should, the cow will be able to continue her existence for another season or two. The lifespan of the cow will be shorter than her herd mates as the load on the surviving claw will increase, putting her at risk of future lameness episodes in that foot.


What is involved in a claw amputation?

Your vet may have assessed a lame cow and recommended a claw amputation. The following photos explain the process.

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT – surgical photos below.


Infection in claw beyond treatment is identified.


The decision to operate is made, and appropriate local anaesthetic and pain relief are given to ensure the cow is as comfortable as possible.


Claw is surgically removed.


Surgical wound is bandaged.


The hoof will need several visits and bandage changes while it heals. New skin has to grow back over the wound as it isn’t possible to stitch the wound closed at the time of the amputation; we call this healing by second intention. Pain relief is given to cow throughout her recovery. These images show stages of healing.


This year has been particularly bad for lameness. While wet weather and the inability to sort track maintenance have played a part in higher numbers than normal, is it still important cow lameness is identified and treated promptly, to minimise the risk of an infection spreading further up the claw.

If lameness rates on your farm are getting you down, or your treated cows aren’t recovering as quickly as you would like, chat with your vet to discuss how we might be able to help. It might be as simple as reviewing the treatment options you are using, or perhaps you would like to book some on-farm lameness training or maybe it is time to talk to one of our Healthy Hoof vets who can do a full review of the causes and management of lameness on your farm. Whatever level of intervention you need, we are here to help.


Other resources you may find helpful:


Lame cows in a wet summer – what can you do to improve the situation?

Hoof trimming

Could knowing your cows’ lameness score help production



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