Cows do have knees, but they are found at the top of their hind legs and usually referred to as the stifle joint. The joints on a cow’s leg that look like their knees are actually equivalent to their wrists in the front legs, and their ankles in their hind legs.
In this article, we’ll look at cows’ knees and ankles, learn how they differ from human joints, and go over some interesting things cows can and can’t do because of the anatomy of their knees.
Do Cows Knees Bend Backwards?
Cows have forward facing knees on their hind legs, which means that they bend backwards in the same way that a human knee does, however the middle joint in each cow leg (which looks like their knee) bends forwards, similar to the human ankle.
On both front and rear legs, it sometimes appears as though cows’ knees face the wrong way because the center joint in a cow’s leg is not their knee, but the equivalent of their wrists and ankles.
If you were to compare cow anatomy to humans, cows’ front legs are made up of the equivalent of their elbow at the top, their wrist in the middle, and their knuckles at the bottom.
Their hind legs would be made up of their knees at the top, their ankles in the middle, and their toes at the bottom.
This common misunderstanding of cow anatomy has given rise to some unusual myths surrounding cows, including that they can not walk backwards, and that they can not ascend or descend stairs.
What Are Cows Knees Called?
Cows’ “knees” (the middle joint in each of their legs) are called the carpal joint in their front legs, and the tarsal joint in their hind legs, and are actually equivalent to the wrist and ankle in the front and hind legs respectively.
The actual knee joint in a cow is found in their hind legs and looks more like their hip. The true knee joint is usually referred to as the Stifle Joint in a cow.
Cow joints are usually referred to with slightly different names than human joints, here is a table to keep things simple.
|Cow Joint Position||Human Equivalent||Cow Joint Name|
|Upper Front of Cow||Shoulder||Shoulder Joint|
|First Visible Front Leg Joint||Elbow||Elbow Joint|
|Middle Front Leg Joint||Wrist||Carpal Joint|
|Foot Joint on Front Legs||Knuckles||Fetlock Joint|
|Upper Hind of Cow||Hip||Hip Joint|
|First Visible Hind Legs Joint||Knee||Stifle Joint|
|Middle Hind Legs Joint||Ankle||Tarsal Joint|
|Foot Joint on Hind Legs||Toes||Fetlock Joint|
Do Cows Have Knees or Elbows?
All cows have knees on their hind legs, and elbows on their front legs, however they are at the very top of the legs and don’t look like knees at all.
The middle joint in each leg (which looks like their knees) are actually their wrists, and ankles. This means that a cow’s center leg joint bends forwards, like a human ankle.
Cow Knee Problems
Cows are prone to joint problems, especially in their knees (stifle joints).
According to the American Society of Animal Science, problems with the knee joint are common in cattle, and unfortunately because of where the joint is, it’s not always treatable.
Cows who injure their knee joints may be sent for early slaughter (sometimes called salvage).
Why Do Cows Need Knees?
Like all mammals, cows use the joints in their legs for movement. Cows need to be able to raise and lower their legs to walk, run, lie down, and generally move around.
Cows are descended from roving herds of wild cattle, which had to keep moving constantly as they depleted the pasture land. Cows need to be able to move around to find food, water, and shelter.
Do All Cows Have Knees?
All cows have both carpal and tarsal joints which are the joints that look like their knees, as well as a true knee joint on their hind legs (called a stifle joint) which looks more like their hip.
Can Cows Walk Down Stairs?
It’s a common myth that due to the way cows’ joints bend, cows can ascend stairs but can’t get back down again. This is completely untrue. There is nothing physically preventing a cow from walking up or down a set of stairs.
Cows can walk up and down stairs, although it may be difficult for them due to their size.
Stairs are not intuitive to a cow, since it’s not something they are likely to encounter on a farm so they may not understand how to use stairs if they haven’t been exposed to them already.
Can Cows Knees Bend?
Yes, cows’ knees can bend just like human knees. Both their true knees (stifle joint) and their center leg joints (carpal and tarsal joints) bend the same way as human joints do.
The confusion around cow knees comes from the fact that the joints that look like cows knees are actually the equivalent of their wrists and ankles, so they bend the opposite way than you might expect just by looking at them.
In conclusion, cows do have knees located at the very top of their hind legs, and they bend the same way human knees do. The joints in the middle of a cow’s leg which looks like their knee is actually their wrist or ankle joint, and bend the opposite way from human knees.
Cow knees are usually referred to by their scientific name (stifle joint) and their center joints, which look like their knees are commonly referred to as their carpal and tarsal joints.
All cows have stifle joints or knees, and all cows also have carpal and tarsal joints, which look like their knees. Cows use their knees like other mammals, to control their movement.
Unfortunately, cattle are prone to joint problems, especially in their stifle or knee joints. When a cow injures their stifle joint, it is difficult to cure because of the location inside the rump of the cow, and cattle are frequently sent for salvage (slaughter) if this joint becomes damaged.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.