Detecting hoof lesions in dairy cattle using a hand-held thermometer

David C J Main, Jessica E Stokes, J.D. Reader, H R Whay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


New screening methods that identify and promote the treatment of dairy cattle with foot lesions would be beneficial. A previous study by this group using expensive thermal imaging techniques have demonstrated that the presence of lesions was associated with an elevated foot temperature. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between lesions and the temperature of the plantar surface of cows' feet using a low-cost hand-held infrared thermometer.

An experienced foot trimmer, employed within a veterinary practice, assessed the temperature of the cow's feet immediately before routine foot trimming on six farms. Prior to lifting the limbs, but while the cattle were in a crush, the skin temperature immediately proximal to the heel bulb of the hind feet was recorded.

The hind feet of 143 cows were examined, and a total of 167 lesions were identified on 139 hind feet of 103 cows. The following lesions were identified: white line disease (45), sole ulcers (31), digital dermatitis (23), sole separation (16), sand crack (14), sole puncture (11), toe necrosis (11), sole bruising (8), interdigital growth (7), and foul in the foot (interdigital necrobacillosis) (1). Overall, the mean temperature of feet with any lesions was 26.8°C (±0.20 s.e.m.) compared with 23.6°C (±0.23 s.e.m.) for feet with no lesions. This difference was consistent across all farms with the temperature of feet with lesions significantly higher than feet without lesions (P < 0.05). There was, however, a significant variation between the six farms in the temperature of feet either with no lesions (P < 0.001) or with lesions (P = 0.001). By observing the maximum temperature of either foot, this method enabled us to identify cows that had at least one foot lesion with a sensitivity and specificity of 78 per cent at a threshold of 25.25°C.

This study has demonstrated that a low-cost infrared thermometer may be valuable—perhaps within automated dairy monitoring systems—for identifying cows with claw lesions that are likely to benefit from early treatment. Since there were differences between the temperatures of feet on different farms, its potential application should, at present, be limited to prioritising treatment of individuals within a herd.

Original languageEnglish
JournalVeterinary Record
Early online date8 Sep 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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