To evaluate the manner in which a cow's claws make contact with the ground at the walk, the gait, and in particular the claw-ground contact pattern, were studied in 12 healthy, lactating dairy cows, using high-speed cinematography (500frames/s) while the animals were walking on a treadmill. The results showed that the limbs were advanced around the contralateral limbs in a sigmoid curve. The feet contacted the ground with the foot axis and the tips of the claws rotated slightly outwards. In all cows the lateral claws contacted the ground before the medial claws in the hindlimbs, and in 10/12 cows in the forelimbs. The heel of the lateral claws was the region of initial contact with the ground in the hindlimbs of all cows and in the forelimbs in 9/12 cows. Lateral 'heel first' contact in the fore and hindlimbs appeared to be the normal gait pattern in these animals. Compared with a previous study of heifers, lactating cows had a larger step width in the hindlimbs and a smaller step width in the forelimbs. These ground contact patterns offer an explanation for the predisposition to claw disorders of the lateral claw of the hindlimb. The results of this study reinforce the suggestion that soft floor surfaces should be provided for cattle to prevent mechanical injury to the claws.