Dropped hock syndrome

MPI is monitoring cases of an emerging condition affecting dairy cows known as dropped hock syndrome (formerly sciatic palsy). Learn more about the condition and how you can report a case to us.

Background on the condition

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is continuing to seek information from veterinarians regarding dropped hock syndrome. It's not an exotic disease and is currently believed to be nutritional or genetic in origin. Farmers who suspect a cow has the condition should contact a veterinarian.

MPI began gathering reports of the condition in 2011 and we're working with Massey University. Most cases occur in:

  • rising 3-year-olds (occasionally rising 2-year-olds)
  • Jersey or Jersey-cross breeds
  • often poorly-grown animals in mid-late pregnancy.

Possible causes such as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), other exotic, and previously-described endemic causes of this condition (like trauma) have been ruled out.

Cases have occurred in the main dairying areas of New Zealand – on both the north and south islands.

Video – cows with dropped hock syndrome (1:31)

This video shows several cows with dropped hock syndrome struggling to walk in a paddock.

No words relevant to the topic are spoken.

The animals are suffering from muscle weakness of the legs (paraperesis). 

[End of transcript]

Know the signs

Animals affected by this condition can initially present with shortened gait. This can progress rapidly to severe sinking of the hocks and result in cows that are unable to walk. Early cases can present as a 'mincing' or 'short-stepping' gait in a number of cows, with a smaller number developing the full condition.

In some cases, 'flying scapulas' are seen together or separately from dropped hocks.

Clinical signs are always bi-lateral, although they may be less marked on one side. Specific veterinary information, including on sampling and reporting is available in our update.

Download the update on dropped hock syndrome in dairy cows [PDF, 272 KB]

How you can help

We would like to know if further cases of this syndrome have been seen throughout New Zealand. This is a rare condition so it may take time to investigate it fully. If you've seen cattle with some of the signs, here is what you can do:

  • take photos and, if possible, record video
  • email the photos and video to MPI
  • if we verify the photos or video, complete the questionnaire
  • send the questionnaire to MPI.

You can email the evidence and questionnaire to kelly.buckle@mpi.govt.nz

Download the questionnaire [PDF, 50 KB]


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