Physics of Animal Health: On the mechano-biology of hoof growth and form

Al-Agele, R and Paul, E and Taylor, S and Watson, C and Sturrock, C and Drakopoulos, M and Atwood, R C and Rutland, C S and Menzies-Gow, N J and Knowles, E and Elliott, J and Harris, P and Rauch, C (2019) Physics of Animal Health: On the mechano-biology of hoof growth and form. JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY INTERFACE.

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Global inequalities in economic access and agriculture productivity imply that a large number of developing countries rely on working equids for transport/agriculture/mining. Therefore, the understanding of hoof conditions/shape variations affecting equids' ability to work is still a persistent concern. To bridge this gap, using a multi-scale interdisciplinary approach, we provide a bio-physical model predicting the shape of equids’ hooves as a function of physical and biological parameters. In particular, we show (i) where the hoof growth stress originates from, (ii) why the hoof growth rate is one order of magnitude higher than the proliferation rate of epithelial cells and (iii) how the soft-to-hard transformation of the epithelium is possible allowing the hoof to fulfil its function as a weight-bearing element. Finally (iv), we demonstrate that the reason for hoof misshaping is linked to the asymmetrical design of equids' feet (shorter quarters/long toe) together with the inability of the biological growth stress to compensate for such an asymmetry. Consequently, the hoof can adopt a dorsal curvature and become ‘dished’ overtime, which is a function of the animal's mass and the hoof growth rate. This approach allows us to discuss the potential occurrence of this multifaceted pathology in equids.