Bovine Lameness and Podiatry

Toe abscesses (toe tip necrosis)

What is it?

Toe abscessation is infection of the white line in the toe region. This infection causes intense pain due to swelling within the hoof capsule.

How  to recognize  it?

Affected cattle are very lame tend to walk on their heels to avoid toe pressure. The toe is worn away or abraded. There are no skin lesions or swelling above the hoof unless the infection has extended to deeper structures. The lateral digit of the hindlimb is most commonly involved and both hindlimbs may be affected. Hoof tester application at the toe will result in signs of pain and withdrawal of the limb.


This injury is more common in feedlot beef cattle as they are moved through the facility at speed and abrade the toe region. Transport in aluminum trailers without bedding has also been implicated. Damage to the toe leads to ascending infection in the white line area.

How do you prevent toe abscesses?

Cattle need to be moved at a walking speed and with calm handling. Floors should be nonabrasive. Trailers should have bedding.

How do you treat toe abscesses?

The toe should be trimmed to allow the abscess to drain but without causing bleeding as this means more damage. Undermined sole should be removed to prevent trapping more debris. If healthy, the opposite digit can be placed on a block to minimize weight bearing on the affected toe.

The animal should be kept in a clean, dry environment until the lesion has cornified (become solid) and pain on walking is minimal.

If left untreated, the infection can easily spread to the bone of P3, the coffin joint, navicular bursa and/or digital tendon sheath.

Key Takeaways

Toe necrosis is damage to the toe region of the foot. Hoof abrasion leads to infection in the region. Drainage is crucial to prevent ascending infection.

Toe necrosis is minimized with calm handling and avoiding abrasive surfaces.


Lameness originating in the hoof of cattle, Cramer and Solano,

Toe abscess (toe tip necrosis) in feeder cattle, SDSU 2020

Traumatic Lesions of the Sole, VCNA FA 2017; Volume 33, Issue 2, July 2017, pp271-281.

Pathogenesis and Treatment of Toe Lesions in Cattle Including “Nonhealing” Toe Lesions. VCNA FA 2017; Volume 33, Issue 2, July 2017, pp 301-328.

Diagnosis and therapy of feedlot lameness, AABP 2020



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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.