Sole Ulcers

Sole ulcers are a very painful type of non-infectious hoof lesion - usually located where the sole and heel bulb meet - where infection forms between the sole and the underlying tissues. They arise when the soft tissues inside the sole are damaged and normal horn cannot be produced for a number of reasons, but are often associated with trauma from stone bruises, for instance, and can cause severe mobility problems in dairy cattle. Sole ulcers can also be related to bleeding associated with sole bruising.

There is usually a time lag between the initial trauma and the development or observation of the sole ulcer lesion. Sole ulcers are often seen directly under where the pedal bone would sit, but hoof horn grows at a rate of around 5mm per month; the sole of the hoof is approximately 10-15mm thick, thus the trauma event causing the bruising is likely to have occurred up to three months earlier.

Sole ulcers commonly affect one or both of the outer hindclaws, particularly in bigger, high-yielding dairy cattle kept under conditions where cow comfort is poor. Where both hind feet are affected the symptoms may be masked. Sole ulcers are also common in dairy herds in which animals are managed in loose-housing systems with poor hygiene conditions.

If the corium is exposed, infection can enter the deeper structures of the claw and spread, causing serious problems and allowing abscesses to develop.

Prevention

The key to preventing solar ulcers partly lies in controlling sole bruising, often associated with inappropriate nutrition with high levels of SARA in the herd. This subclinical level of illness results in softer than normal sole horn, which is further softened when exposed to moisture and damaged by slurry. Similarly, good cow comfort levels - comfortable cubicles and even, undamaged and slip-resistant floors in cattle housing - as well as good-quality cow tracks are essential, in addition to regular, competent foot trimming, in avoiding foot trauma.

Treatment

Sole ulcer lesions need to be trimmed carefully by a competent trimmer. The aim is to transfer weight bearing to the sound, healthy claw and in order to achieve this, the opposing claw may be fitted with a block, lifting the affected claw, relieving the pressure and providing an opportunity for the ulcer to heal. The sole can be very carefully trimmed away and 'dished-out' around the ulcer, in order to remove pressure, but any tissue protruding from the ulcer should not be excised or treated with any caustic agent, as this can be painful and slow the healing process.

Despite the best of care, many sole ulcers will never fully resolve, and affected cows will display chronic low-grade mobility problems and require more regular corrective foot trimming than normal during their productive lives.

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