The use of infrared thermography for detecting digital dermatitis in dairy cattle: What is the best measure of temperature and foot location to use?

G Harris-Bridge, L Young, I Handel, M Farish, C Mason, MA Mitchell, MJ Haskell

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Lameness in dairy cattle is a persistent problem, indicating pain caused by underlying disease states and is associated with reduced milk yields. Digital dermatitis is a common cause of lameness. Thermal imaging is a technique that may facilitate early detection of this disease and has the potential for use in automated detection systems. Previous studies with thermal imaging have imaged either the heels or the coronary band of the foot and typically only used the maximum temperature (Max) value as the outcome measure. This study investigated the utility of other statistical descriptors: 90th percentile (90PCT), 95th percentile (95PCT), standard deviation (SD) and coefficient of variation (CoV) and compared the utility of imaging the heel or coronary band. Images were collected from lame and healthy cows using a high-resolution thermal camera. Analyses were done at the cow and foot level. There were significant differences between lame and healthy feet detectable at the heels (95th percentile: P < 0.05; SD: P < 0.05) and coronary band (SD: P < 0.05). Within lame cows, 95PCT values were higher at the heel (P < 0.05) and Max values were higher at the coronary band (P < 0.05) in the lame foot compared to the healthy foot. ROC analysis showed an AUC value of 0.72 for Max temperature and 0.68 for 95PCT at the heels. It was concluded that maximum temperature is the most accurate measure, but other statistical descriptors of temperature can be used to detect lameness. These may be useful in certain contexts, such as where there is contamination. Differentiation of lame from healthy feet was most apparent when imaging the heels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26 - 33
Number of pages8
JournalVeterinary Journal
Early online date28 May 2018
Publication statusFirst published - 28 May 2018


Bibliographical note



  • Dairy cattle
  • Disease detection
  • Lameness
  • Thermal imaging

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