Hoof problems in dairy cows: the influence of biotin on hoof health

9 November 2023

Biotin's effect on a cow's hooves

Hoof health is a crucial aspect of cattle management, as it directly impacts the overall well-being and productivity of the cows. Furthermore, lameness impacts profitability because of costs related to treatment, culling, milk yield, extra labor, etc. A study published in April of 2023 found the average cost of lameness to be 307,50 EUR [1]. Therefore, prevention is paramount. One of the keys to maintaining strong and healthy hooves is through proper nutrition. In this article, we explore the influence of biotin on hoof health.

the influence of biotin on hoof health


Let’s start with a look at the most important parts of a cow’s hooves. On the outside, we find the hard hoof wall (1), usually referred to as the horn. The horn contains significant amounts of keratins, proteins that are very resistant to acids and alkaline substances. Under normal conditions, horn growth is 5 - 13 mm per month, depending on the nutrition, health, and genetics of the cow [2]

At the bottom of the hoof is the sole (2), in which the front is called the toe and the back the two heel bulbs. This softer tissue is connected with the horn through the white line (3). This white line offers some flexibility when the cow moves. Both the horn and the sole are formed by the corium: the cell-producing factory adjoint to the horn (5) and the sole (6) [3].

Very important is the digital cushion (9). This fatty layer protects the corium from the bones inside the hoof and helps transport blood. The pedal bone (4) is the bone closest to the digital cushion and is the bone that shapes the hoof. This is the only bone that is completely within the hoof [3].

Figure 1: The anatomy of a healthy cow’s foot [4].

Hoof problems

Cattle depend heavily on their hooves for mobility and stability. Having healthy hooves is crucial for them to graze, walk, and run easily. Hoof-related problems, like lameness, can result in decreased fertility, milk quality, and longevity in dairy cows [5]. The four main causes of lameness are sole ulcers, white line disease, digital dermatitis, and foot rot. The first two are defects of the hoof [6].

Noteworthy are the higher numbers of lame cows in the months after calving, during a period of negative energy balance. This is caused by a number of factors. It is suggested, for example, that horn growth is reduced around calving as more nutrients are directed towards milk production. This reduced horn growth is also accompanied by increased hoof wear as periparturient cows have more standing time. Slower growth and increased wear will lead to thinner soles, which increases the risk of damaging the corium, thus causing the formation of even poorer hooves [6].

Table 1: number of lame cows by month of lactation [6].

It is vital to prioritize maintaining the best possible hoof health in order to prevent all sorts of lameness. Now let’s dive into the influence of biotin on hoof health.

What is biotin?

Biotin is a water-soluble and sulfur-containing B vitamin that “is involved in a wide range of metabolic processes (…) primarily related to the utilization of fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids.” [7]. It occurs naturally in plants and is also produced by microbes in the rumen. It has been reported that acidic rumen conditions can reduce the synthesis of biotin during the periparturient period and in early lactation.

Figure 2: Structural formula of (+)-biotin [7].

Interesting is its important role in developing skin cells (claw horn is just a modified type of skin) and the keratinization of the hooves [5]. We described earlier how the corium is the cell-producing factory of the hooves. You can compare this corium with the lunula of your fingernail; the white-ish part in which new “fingernail cells” are produced. As with the lunula, the corium slowly pushes away the newly formed “horn cells”. During this process, these cells get harder and form the new outer growth of the hooves. This process is called keratinization [3]. Any disturbance of this process may affect the horn quality. Simply put: biotin promotes horn formation and thus improves horn quality.  Biotin has also been found to improve conception rates, milk quality, and milk quantity [5].

The influence of biotin on hoof health

The influence of biotin on hoof health is well documented. Numerous research findings have proved that providing dairy cows with a daily biotin supplementation of 20 mg leads to a decrease in the occurrence of several prevalent hoof issues.

Pötzsch and colleagues found that biotin reduces the cases of white line disease by 45% in multiparous cows [8], while another study found an impact on white line disease lesions after 2 months already [9]. In a comprehensive split-herd intervention study with 900 cows across five UK farms, the administration of 20 mg of biotin per day resulted in a 50% reduction in the occurrence of lameness attributed to white line lesions [10].

Other studies focus on the sole of the hoof. A study on crossbred cattle in India found a significant decline in heel erosion and injuries to the sole thanks to 20 mg of biotin per day for 6 months. They mentioned that “the improvement may be related to the fact that biotin improves the quality of the claw horn, which encourages replacement of defective horn by improving the healing process.” [11] These results were confirmed in a research paper that involved supplementing dairy cows with 20 mg of biotin and 4 grams of zinc sulfate for 4 months. Not only did heel erosion decline, but the soles of the cows also got thicker and overgrew less [12].

Hoof problems in dairy cows

Figure 3. Point where the probe was placed while measuring sole thickness [12]

When looking at plasma biotin levels of dairy cows you´ll see a drop in these levels 25 days in milk, returning to normal levels from 100 days in milk until the end of lactation [13]. This is in line with the high cases of lameness after calving we described earlier. Noteworthy are the lower plasma biotin levels found in lame cows when compared to cows with no history of lameness [14].

Most clinical hoof lesions are associated with poor hoof horn quality. Supplementing clinically healthy 1-year-old Girolando cattle (Holstein cross breed) with 12,5 mg of biotin daily for 40 days showed to be beneficial to horn quality. Hoof growth in treated animals was 4.1 mm greater than in the control group [15].

There is a known link between acidosis and lameness. The reason why acidosis leads to poor hoof formation is however unknown. Biotin deficiency has been proposed as a possible factor [6].

Lastly, biotin-supplemented cows also show improved milk quantity and quality [12], with a meta-analysis even showing 1.3 kg of extra milk per day [16]. It is thought that dietary biotin increases fiber digestion or increases propionate production, thereby providing additional nutrients to improve milk production [16].


In summary, the importance of maintaining optimal hoof health in dairy cows cannot be overstated, as it directly influences their well-being, productivity, and overall profitability. The research presented in this article underscores the critical role of proper nutrition, specifically the influence of biotin, in preserving hoof health. Biotin has been shown to play a pivotal role in promoting horn formation, enhancing hoof quality, and reducing the occurrence of common hoof problems such as white line disease and sole injuries. These findings emphasize the need for proactive hoof health management strategies, including the incorporation of biotin supplementation, to ensure the well-being and productivity of dairy cows while minimizing economic losses. These findings do not necessarily mean that all cows should be supplemented with biotin, but that certain groups have a higher risk of becoming lame, such as cows that have recently calved and cows suffering from acidosis.

Hooftop: Resco’s biotin bolus

Hooftop is a cattle biotin bolus developed by Resco to strengthen the hooves and prevent hoof problems and lameness in cattle. The bolus steadily releases 20 mg of biotin per day during 2 months. Apart from biotin the bolus also contains other ingredients related to improved hoof health such as zinc and vitamin E.

Hooftop is a dietetic complementary feed and thus complies with the EU regulation 2020/354. This regulation states that a bolus with the particular nutritional purpose to support the regeneration of hooves, trotters and skin has a recommended length of up to 8 weeks.

Hooftop is an easy way of administering the recommended 20 mg of biotin per day.

Biotin and zinc bolus to improve hooves

Source list: Hoof problems in cows and the influence of biotin on hoof health

[1] Robcis, R., Ferchiou, A., Berrada, M., Ndiaye, Y., Herman, N., Lhermie, G., & Raboisson, D. (2023). Cost of lameness in dairy herds: An integrated bioeconomic modeling approach. Journal of Dairy Science, 106(4), 2519–2534.

[2] Van De Kerk. (1979). Rendérende rundveehouderij. Uitgeverij Terra Zutphen.

[3] Hepworth, K., Neary, M., & Purdue University. (n.d.). Hoof anatomy, care and management in livestock. Purdue Agriculture.

[4] The anatomy of a healthy cow’s foot. (n.d.). AHDB. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from

[5] Singh, A., Randhawa, S. S., & Singh, R. (2019). The effect of biotin and zinc supplementation on dairy cow hoof health and milk quality. Veterinarski Arhiv, 89(6), 799–820.

[6] Blowey, R. (2005). Factors associated with lameness in dairy cattle. In Practice, 27(3), 154–162.

[7] Biotin. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from

[8] Pötzsch, C. J., Collis, V., Blowey, R., Packington, A., & Green, L. (2003). The impact of parity and duration of biotin supplementation on white line disease lameness in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 86(8), 2577–2582.

[9] Hoblet, K., Weiss, W., Anderson, D., & Moeschberger, M. (2004). Effect of oral biotin supplementation on hoof health in Holstein heifers during gestation and early lactation. International Symposium on Lameness in Ruminants., 253–255.

[10] Hedges, J., Blowey, R., Packington, A., O’Callaghan, C., & Green, L. (2001). A longitudinal field trial of the effect of biotin on lameness in dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 84(9), 1969–1975.

[11] Randhawa, S. S., Dua, K., Randhawa, C. S., Randhawa, S. S., & Munshi, S. K. (2008). Effect of biotin supplementation on hoof health and ceramide composition in dairy cattle. Veterinary Research Communications, 32(8), 599–608.

[12] Singh, S., Randhawa, S., & Singh, R. (2019). The effect of biotin and zinc supplementation on dairy cow hoof health and milk quality. Veterinarskhi Arhiv, 89(6), 799–820.

[13] Midla, L. T., Hoblet, K. H., Weiss, W., & Moeschberger, M. L. (1998). Supplemental dietary biotin for prevention of lesions associated with aseptic subclinical laminitis (pododermatitis aseptica diffusa) in primiparous cows. PubMed, 59(6), 733–738.

[14] Roberts, R., & Baggott, D. (1981). Biotin experiments with dairy cattle. Proc. Roche Vit. Symp., 13-20.

[15] La, D. S., Lg, F., Ib, A., Cunha, D., Mi, D. M., & Ds, G. (2010). Effect of biotin supplementation on claw horn growth in young, clinically healthy cattle. PubMed

[16] Lean, I., & Rabiee, A. (2011). Effect of feeding biotin on milk production and hoof health in lactating dairy cows: A quantitative assessment. Journal of Dairy Science, 94(3), 1465–1476.

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