Infrared thermography (IRT) was used to detect digital dermatitis (DD) prior to routine claw trimming. A total of 1192 IRT observations were collected from 149 cows on eight farms. All cows were housed in tie-stalls. The maximal surface temperatures of the coronary band (CB) region and skin (S) of the fore and rear feet (mean value of the maximal surface temperatures of both digits for each foot separately, CBmax and Smax) were assessed. Grouping was performed at the foot level (presence of DD, n = 99; absence, n = 304), or at the cow level (all four feet healthy, n = 24) or where there was at least one DD lesion on the rear feet, n = 37). For individual cows (n = 61), IRT temperature difference was determined by subtracting the mean sum of CBmax and Smax of the rear feet from that of the fore feet.
Feet with DD had higher CBmax and Smax (P < 0.001) than healthy feet. Smax was significantly higher in feet with infectious DD lesions (M-stage: M2 + M4; n = 15) than in those with non-infectious M-lesions (M1 + M3; n = 84) (P = 0.03), but this was not the case for CBmax (P = 0.12). At the cow level, an optimal cut-off value for detecting DD of 0.99 °C (IRT temperature difference between rear and front feet) yielded a sensitivity of 89.1% and a specificity of 66.6%. The results indicate that IRT may be a useful non-invasive diagnostic tool to screen for the presence of DD in dairy cows by measuring CBmax and Smax.