This investigation analysed the applicability of principal component analysis (PCA), a latent variable method, for the early detection of mastitis and lameness. Data used were recorded on the Karkendamm dairy research farm between August 2008 and December 2010. For mastitis and lameness detection, data of 338 and 315 cows in their first 200 d in milk were analysed, respectively. Mastitis as well as lameness were specified according to veterinary treatments. Diseases were defined as disease blocks. The different definitions used (two for mastitis, three for lameness) varied solely in the sequence length of the blocks. Only the days before the treatment were included in the blocks. Milk electrical conductivity, milk yield and feeding patterns (feed intake, number of feeding visits and time at the trough) were used for recognition of mastitis. Pedometer activity and feeding patterns were utilised for lameness detection. To develop and verify the PCA model, the mastitis and the lameness datasets were divided into training and test datasets. PCA extracted uncorrelated principle components (PC) by linear transformations of the raw data so that the first few PCs captured most of the variations in the original dataset. For process monitoring and disease detection, these resulting PCs were applied to the Hotelling's T2 chart and to the residual control chart. The results show that block sensitivity of mastitis detection ranged from 77·4 to 83·3%, whilst specificity was around 76·7%. The error rates were around 98·9%. For lameness detection, the block sensitivity ranged from 73·8 to 87·8% while the obtained specificities were between 54·8 and 61·9%. The error rates varied from 87·8 to 89·2%. In conclusion, PCA seems to be not yet transferable into practical usage. Results could probably be improved if different traits and more informative sensor data are included in the analysis.