Can dairy producers prevent lameness?

Lameness occurs from both external and internal factors that affect the dairy cow. 

The vast majority of hind limb lameness in cattle occurs in the foot, but where do we look when we can’t find anything wrong with the foot?

The next place to look is the stifle in commercial beef cattle. In this article, we will explore the notorious, stifled bull.

The stifle and conformation

The term “stifle” is analogous to “knee” in humans. It is comprised of three joints, a patella, two menisci, several ligaments, the femur, and the tibia.

Lainie Kringen-Scholtz

Lainie Kringen-Scholtz

This joint is high motion and very important to all bulls – from breeding season, to collection barns, to the show circuit.

Key to a bull’s success in any of these realms starts with conformation. Straight hocked bulls are commonly straight stifled as well which predisposes them to meniscal damage, joint instability, degenerative joint disease, and cranial cruciate ligament rupture.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injuries

The cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL) is analogous to the human anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This is the most common cause of lameness in the stifle.

Clinically, there is often moderate to severe joint effusion (swelling) along with pain upon palpation. They may walk with their heel elevated.

The gold standard for diagnosis of a CrCL rupture is arthroscopy which is when a surgeon puts a small camera in the joint.

Most commercial bulls are salvaged if they have a CrCL rupture. Without treatment, they will develop degenerative joint disease, will lose body condition, and will start breaking down the unaffected limb from overuse.

Pain is controlled with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as meloxicam or flunixin meglumine (Banamine). Surgical repair is the preferred treatment for ruptured CrCLs.

Medial Meniscal and Medial Collateral Ligament Injuries

The meniscus stabilizes the joint, reduces friction, and is a shock absorber to the stifle.

When the medial (inside) collateral ligament ruptures, cattle may have medial meniscal damage as well. Because of the anatomy of the lateral (outside) side of the stifle, it’s meniscus and ligament are much less likely to become damaged.

These bulls tend to preferentially bear weight on the medial claw and show similar signs as described above. Arthroscopy can be used to both diagnose and treat these injuries.

Conservative therapy can be considered for medial meniscal and medial collateral ligament injuries. Stall rest for six to eight weeks is recommended. Arthroscopy can be used to debride the damaged meniscus or to reattach the meniscus. The ligament can be fixed using bone screws.

If referral to a bovine surgeon is not an option

Most of the patients I see do not have a surgical option. I treat most stifle injuries with intramuscular polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (Adequan), intravenous hyaluronic acid (Legend), stall rest, and joint injections consisting of steroids, hyaluronic acid and an antibiotic. Owners can do hydrotherapy (cold hose) for 15 minutes twice per day to decrease inflammation.

Prognosis for stifled bulls

Without treatment, pain management, and rest, stifled bulls may never heal.

With the help of your veterinarian, you can figure out the best plan for your bull whether that be sending him to the sale barn, managing conservatively, or sending him to a bovine surgeon for surgical correction.

Questions? Send email to Eric Knock, DVM, at or send mail to 321 E. 14th St., Miller, SD 57362. Eric Knock owns and operates Prairie View Vet Clinic in Miller, Redfield and Highmore, S.D.

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