Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

White line disease

Synonym(s): white line abscess, white line lesion, white line separation, white line haemorrhage

Contributor(s): Nick Bell, Sophie Mahendran , Mark Burnell

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  • Cause: mechanical shearing and other abnormal forces on the foot, with penetration of foreign material into the white line.
  • Signs: lameness, with severity dependent on extent of lesion and site.
  • Diagnosis: visualization of the lesion during foot trimming.
  • Treatment: therapeutic foot trim to remove loose horn, usually with placement of a block on the sound claw and NSAIDs.
  • Prognosis: good with mild lesions, guarded if sepsis of deeper foot structures has occurred.


Predisposing factors


  • Solid slippery or uneven concrete alley floors, causing altered weight bearing and shearing forces during slipping.
  • Slatted concrete alleys.
  • Large herds sizes have an increased risk, possibly due to increased group sizes and more avoidance behaviours of social interactions.
  • Being grazed due to the use of tracks for walking to/from the milking parlour and increased avoidance behaviours while being herded (avoidance from people, dogs and more dominant cows).
  • Aggressive herding of cattle at a fast pace, especially when using a dog or vehicle. This means cattle are not able to select their optimal foot placement, resulting in increased forces though the feet.
  • Regular alterations to the herd hierarchy such as the addition of new animals, leading to more evasive movements.

Disease progression

  • White line lesions start as very small, discrete areas within the white line, usually seen as a black mark. Without treatment, the lesion will progressively erode up through the white line horn, involving an increasingly large area of the foot.


  • The white line is made up of laminar horn (nontubular), which is produced by the basal layer of the epidermis overlying the laminar corium.
    • It forms the junction between the sole horn and the hoof wall  .
  • These laminar horn cells are heterogeneous and relatively immature, and so have a soft and elastic nature.
    • This makes the white line susceptible point of weakness and susceptible to mechanical shearing, separation and penetration by small stones and dirt.
    • Anything that causes production of poor quality or weakened horn such as bruising will mean that the white line horn will be even less resistant to physical forces placed upon it.
  • Once foreign material becomes trapped in the white line, it is forced deeper by the mechanical impacts from walking.
    • The white line is prone to advancement of foreign material through it due to the development of tiny fissures within the horn corresponding with the folds of laminae and lamellar horn.
  • A sterile abscess can develop, with tracking of the white line lesion dorsally to create a sinus tract between the laminar and coronary corium at the level of the coronary band. Pus may also track under the sole Double sole and burst out under the heel .
  • Infection of a white line lesion with bacteria can lead to development of pus within the white line, causing further destruction of the white line horn.
    • The pressure and build-up of pus is generally very painful for the cow.
  • On rare occasions the infection may track deeper into the foot, causing sepsis of internal foot structures such as the deep flexor tendon Deep flexor tendon rupture, navicular bone and bursa, or the distal interphalangeal joint.


  • During the period following calving, up to 5 months post-calving, the cow may experience increased bruising of the white line, disruption to horn growth, giving poor quality horn formation and an increase in white line lesions.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMed Resource.
  • Shearer J K, & Van Amstel S A (2017) Pathogenesis and Treatment of Sole Ulcers and White Line Disease. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice 33 (2), pp 283–300 PubMed.
  • Horseman S V, Whay H R, Huxley J N, Bell N J & Mason C S(2013) A Survey of the on-Farm Treatment of Sole Ulcer and White Line Disease in Dairy Cattle. The Veterinary Journal 197 (2), pp 461–67. 
  • Potterton S L, Bell N J, Whay H R, Berry E A et al (2012) A Descriptive Review of the Peer and Non-Peer Reviewed Literature on the Treatment and Prevention of Foot Lameness in Cattle Published between 2000 and 2011. The Veterinary Journal 193 (3), pp 612–16 PubMed
  • Barker Z E, J R Amory, J L Wright, S A Mason et al (2009) Risk Factors for Increased Rates of Sole Ulcers, White Line Disease, and Digital Dermatitis in Dairy Cattle from Twenty-Seven Farms in England and Wales. Journal of Dairy Science 92 (5), pp 1971–78. 
  • Amory J R, Barker Z E, Wright J L, Mason S A et al (2008) Associations between sole ulcer, white line disease and digital dermatitis and the milk yield of 1824 dairy cows on 30 dairy cow farms in England and Wales from February 2003-November 2004. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 83 (3–4), pp 381–391 PubMed.
  • Pötzsch C J, Collis V J (Née Hedges), Blowey R W, Packington A J & Green L E (2003) The Impact of Parity and Duration of Biotin Supplementation on White Line Disease Lameness in Dairy Cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 86 (8), pp 2577–82.
  • Leach K A, Logue D N, Randall J M, and Kempson S A (1998) Claw Lesions in Dairy Cattle: Methods for Assessment Ofsole and White Line Lesions. The Veterinary Journal 155 (1), pp 91–102 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Van Amstel S & Shearer J (2008) Manual for treatment and control of lameness in cattle. Wiley. 
  • Blowey R W & Weaver A D (2003) Locomotor disorders. In: Color atlas of diseases and disorders of vattle. 2nd edn, Eds: Blowey R & Weaver D. Oxford: Mosby. pp 83–122.