Claw amputations are indicated in lame cows where infection and inflammation has travelled deeper into the joint causing bone and tendon damage. In advanced cases, this damage results in the claw pointing upwards. This is often, but not always, an advanced white line disease. Once the infection gets to this point, they are often difficult to treat, have a prolonged recovery time and permanent damage resulting in ongoing lameness.
Claw amputations are often chosen after initial treatment has been unsuccessful. Early white line disease treatment includes trimming to remove underrun horn, hoof blocks to reduce the pressure on that claw, Metacam/Ketomax to reduce swelling and pain and if indicated a course of antibiotics.
Claw amputations are recommended to provide fast resolution to these lame cows as an alternative to painful, prolonged lameness events with low or no chance of resolution and therefore an alternative to euthanasia.
When selecting cows to receive a claw amputation it is important the infection is limited to the claw. It is also important to consider age, frame size and walking distances on the farms. These factors influence the success and therefore longevity within the herd. Best results are seen with young cows, smaller frame sizes and shorter walking distances.
Claw amputations are a relatively quick procedure where the affected claw is cleaned, tourniquet applied, local anaesthetic administered, and the claw is removed. A bandage is then applied to help minimise bleeding and ensure the area is kept clean. A revisit is often recommended to rebandage and check the wound. Pain relief is administered, along with antibiotics to minimise the chance of infection. No long-term treatment is required. Walking returns to normal once the wound has healed. Sometimes, in chronic cases where muscle wastage has occurred this can take up to six weeks.
Survival time in the herd varies, but on average cows are in the herd for 2 years prior to being culled for a variety of reasons. Although this is a relatively short time, amputation provides an alternative to euthanasia and a few more seasons of production.