Dairy Claw Lesion Identification

The Dairy Claw Lesion Identification Poster was developed through a combined effort by Zinpro Corporation, and the International Lameness Committee. It represents the first global consensus for claw lesion identification, naming convention and record keeping practices. By adopting consistent terminology throughout the world, both the prevalence and economic impact of various lesions will be easier to track and assess.

Proper Identification is Critical

Dairy claw lesions are organized into two categories: infectious and non-infectious. Effective claw lesion management starts by evaluating which category is most prevalent in a particular herd. Since corrective action plans must be appropriate for the category of lesion present, proper lesion identification is critical.

Single-letter Abbreviation, Global Application

The Dairy Claw Lesion Identification Poster features the use of a consistent, single-letter abbreviation for each lesion. Historically, the two most common lesion identification systems (AABP and ABC) are based on two letter abbreviations; however, dairy record keeping practices function more effectively with a single letter due to program character space constraints. With the single letter abbreviation system, lesion prevalence can be more accurately tracked and assessed worldwide by using a common letter for each lesion abbreviation.

Lesion Identification Guide

For more information about dairy claw lesion identification, request your free copy of the First Step® Dairy Claw Lesion Identification Guide. It features close-up color photographs, detailed descriptions, claw zones and single letter abbreviations for the 14 most common non-infectious and infectious claw lesions.

Most Common Dairy Claw Lesions

Following is a summary of lesion names and common signs for the 14 most common non-infectious and infectious claw lesions in dairy cattle. The single letter lesion abbreviation is listed in parenthesis after the lesion name. For reference, the claw zone(s) affected by each claw lesion are also listed, as this provides the ability to cross reference lesion type with the particular claw zone(s) where each lesion occurs, resulting in more accurate lesion identification.


Non-Infectious Dairy Claw Lesions

White Line Lesion (W)
Zones affected: 1, 2, 3 Common signs:

  • In mild cases, a void occurs in the junction between the sole and the wall
  • In severe cases, abscesses form, generally at the heel-sole-wall juncture (zone 3)
Sole Ulcer (U)
Zone affected: 4 Common signs:

  • Raw sore (horn erosive defect) occurring at sole-heel junction on inner side of outside hind claw
  • Often occurs in both outside hind claws (when present)
Sole Hemorrhage (H)
Zones affected: 4, 5, 6 Common signs:

  • Slight to significant red (or blue) coloration of the sole
  • Not to be confused with natural black pigmentation of claw horn
Toe Ulcer (T)
Zone affected: 1 Common signs:

  • Black mark, blood stain and/or rupture in white line or sole at the toe
  • Caused by rotation of pedal bone within the claw pressing down on the sole or thin soles
Corkscrew Claw (C)
Zone affected: 7 Common signs:

  • Rapid irregular growth of the claw with rotation
  • Sole displaced inward and rear
  • Causes difficulty walking
Horizontal Fissure or Hardship Groove (G)
Zones affected: 7, 8 Common signs:

  • Claw wall parallel to the hair-line cracks and eventually breaks off
  • Caused by nutritional or metabolic stress
Vertical Fissure (V)
Zones affected: 7, 8 Common signs:

  • Vertical split in front or side of claw
  • Occurs primarily on outside of front claws
  • Often the most painful cause of lameness
Axial Fissure (X)
Zones affected: 11, 12 Common signs:

  • Deep groove on interior surface of claw wall parallel to front claw surface
  • Bleeding may indicate lesion presence
  • Mild to severe lameness
Interdigital Hyperplasia (K)
Zone affected: 0 Common signs:

  • Rapid growth of skin and/or tissue between the digits, forming a firm mass
  • Secondary infection likely with severe (large) lesion
Thin Sole (Z)
Zones affected: 4, 5 Common signs:

  • Sole is thin and flexible when pressure is applied
  • Caused by insufficient length of toe, excessive wear or over trimming
  • Minimum claw length of 3 inches (7.5 cm) does not apply to heifers or animals that weigh less than 900 lb (400 kg)

Infectious Dairy Claw Lesions

Digital Dermatitis (D)
Zones affected: 9, 10 Common signs:

  • Raw, bright-red or black circular growth above the heel bulbs, with edges forming a white opaque ring or hard, thin, hairy, wart-like growths or sores
  • Affected cattle are reluctant to walk or are lame
Heel Erosion (E)
Zone affected: 6 Common signs:

  • Severe erosion of heel in irregular pit-like depressions or “v” shaped grooves causing lameness
  • Instability of the claw due to lost or damaged horn resulting in uneven weight bearing
  • Heel becomes sore as erosion progresses
Interdigital Dermatitis (I)
Zone affected: 0, 10 Common signs:

  • Discharge and destruction of skin between the claws
  • Bulb horn clefts leading to contusion of the corium and ulceration
Foot Rot, Foul or Phlegmon (F)
Zone affected: 9 Common signs:

  • Swelling of the entire foot (equally) including the dew claws
  • Separation of digits, infection produces a noticeable foul odor
  • Animals will likely have a fever

Claw Zones

Abaxial View of Dairy Cattle Claw Zones

Abaxial (Outside) View
Axial View of Dairy Cattle Claw Zones 1Axial View of Dairy Cattle Claw Zones 2
Axial (Inside) View


The Role of Trace Minerals in Dairy Hoof Health

Trace mineral nutrition plays a critical role in building and maintaining strong, healthy feet. For example, zinc and copper are essential nutrients for developing healthy claw horn tissue, while zinc and manganese play a crucial role in wound healing. Research has shown that feeding a combination of trace minerals (Zn, Mn, Cu and Co) in a highly available complexed form helps decrease both the incidence and severity of common claw lesions.