Assessment of the severity of cattle lameness is helpful to classify lameness and monitor responses to treatment, states David Anderson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, Kansas State University. For this reason, lameness-scoring systems have been created. Equine lameness scoring systems have been well standardized. However, these systems are difficult to extrapolate for use in cattle because of the need to control the gait (e.g., walk, trot) and perform various tests (e.g., circling, flexion tests), he explained at the 2010 Western Veterinary Conference. These tests may be performed in show cattle, but no standardization has been established for cattle.

Various scoring systems have been described for use in lameness examination of cattle and these scoring systems are based more on locomotion rather than responses to specific tests. Multiple variations of lameness scoring have been published. The most widely used system is one designed by Sprecher et al at Michigan State University for adult dairy cows. Although useful and readily learned by lay people, this system does not translate well to beef cattle, bulls and young stock, Anderson said. Anderson prefers to use a simplified system he published in 2005 based on the following scale for lameness assessment in cattle:

  • Score 0 - Normal gait.
  • Score 1- Mild: Walks easily, readily, bears full weight on foot and limb but has an observable gait alteration, stands on all four limbs, line of back bone normal (e.g., osteochondrosis, trauma, hoof wall injury, tendon/muscle strain).
  • Score 2 - Moderate: Reluctant to walk and bear weight but does use the limb to ambulate, short weight bearing phase of stride, rests the affected limb when standing, increased periods of recumbency, may see arching to back bone (e.g., sole abscess, infected joint).
  • Score 3 - Severe: Reluctant to stand, refuses to walk without stimulus, non-weight bearing on affected limb, "hoops" over limb rather than weight bear, does not use limb when standing and lies down most of the time, back bone arched with caudoventral tip to pelvis (e.g., infected joint, fracture, joint luxation, major tendon rupture).
  • Score 4 - Catastrophic: Recumbent, unable to rise, humane euthanasia often indicated (e.g., vertebral fracture, severe pelvic or femur fracture, bilateral fracture or tendon laceration).

Whatever the system used, veterinarians should be consistent and coherent in order to evaluate with precision. All associates in the same practice should agree on a grading system to facilitate communication within the practice and with their clients. Clients and hoof trimmers should be encouraged to record their lameness score observations on a date record or chart and review this with the veterinarian during herd visits. Serial evaluation of lameness is an important tool in determining intervention points for herd-level vs. individual-level concerns.