The mural suspensory apparatus of third phalanx and its supportive heel cushion were examined in 19 cows with an ulcer at the 'typical' site (Rusterholz ulcer) to gain information on the pathogenesis of sole and heel ulcers. The claws of 17 healthy controls were used for comparison. The left hind claws, frozen at -20 degrees C, were sectioned in one longitudinal and four transverse planes with a band saw. The thickness of the subcutaneous tissue, the corium and the extent of displacement of the third phalanx were measured at defined sites on these sections. In addition, the suspensory apparatus, the tissue layer connecting the third phalanx to the dorsal wall of the horn capsule, was examined histologically. There was a direct relationship between the displacement of the third phalanx and ulceration of the sole or heel; in all the ulcerated claws the third phalanx had dropped and the corium and the subcutis under the bone were thinner than in the controls. The supportive cushions of the cows with ulcers contained less fat tissue. There was no histological evidence of damage to the epidermis or the corioepidermal junction in the ulcerated claws nor were the lamellae elongated. Similarly, there were no morphological changes in the connective tissue layer, the submural dermis.