The next time the hoof trimmer tells you a cow has an abscess, ask him to be a little more specific. It is important to understand the underlying causes of these conditions in order to develop effective control and prevention strategies.

Coffeen peggy
Coffeen is a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

“The term ‘sole abscess’ is not a diagnosis,” Dr. Jan Shearer says. “Abscess is a secondary condition that occurs with white-line disease, ulcers, foreign bodies or punctures of the sole.

“Misdiagnosis of toe lesions is common,” he adds. “Sometimes it is not always obvious whether the condition is a white-line lesion or thin sole toe ulcer.” Toe lesions require careful examination.

He explains more here:

Q: Why are thin sole toe ulcers and white-line disease misdiagnosed?

Shearer: A thin sole toe ulcer occurs secondary to thinning of the sole that leads to separation of the sole away from the white line. It occurs in the toe, very close to the white line and, as result, is often misdiagnosed as white-line disease.


It is important to note that the thin sole condition is usually associated with abrasive flooring conditions that cause excessive wear of the sole or, on occasion, overtrimming. When looking to solve this problem, we look for things that cause thinning of the sole, not the causes of white-line disease.

Q: What is the difference between a sole ulcer and white-line disease?

Shearer: Laminitis is believed to be an important underlying cause of both white-line disease and sole ulcers. These conditions are complicated by mechanical factors such as claw horn overgrowth that contributes to unbalanced weight bearing and hard flooring surfaces.

White-line disease is affected to a significant degree by environmental and flooring factors. In sand-bedded barns, very coarse sand particles or small rocks can get embedded in the white line. Because the white line is the softest horn on the weight-bearing surface, there is potential for this to happen.

Laminitis decreases the quality of horn produced and may also cause swelling of the corium, which some believe encourages separation of the white line. In short, there are a number of underlying factors that may be important to sort out with white-line disease.

Laminitis or laminitis-like events can be a contributor to the development of sole ulcers around the time of calving because they weaken the suspensory apparatus that permits the sinking or rotation of the P3. Look at hoof trimming as a strategy to manage ulcers by keeping feet well-balanced or reducing load bearing on claws that may be developing early evidence of a sole ulcer.

Q: Why does it matter?

SHEARER: By first understanding that laminitis may be a consistent feature of claw disease, we have a much better idea of developing management practices that can attack the problem at its root cause. It is important to be able to understand specific conditions so you can put in place proper prevention and control measures.

This article originally appeared in print withCrack down on claw lesions: Sole ulcers, white-line disease