Lameness is one of the most prevalent veterinary complaints in horse management. It can range from an obvious non-weight bearing gait to more subtle signs of discomfort.


Lameness can be caused by trauma, degeneration, nervous dysfunction or be secondary to systemic disease. The signs of lameness are usually related to pain.

Treatment will vary greatly depending on the cause. The horse will be examined up close and observed during movement to diagnose the cause. Often further diagnostics using digital radiography and ultrasonography will be used to determine the exact cause of lameness.

Should we require more specialist advice, we work closely with Matamata Vets.chubby pony

Common causes of lameness:

  • Hoof abscesses
  • Laminitis
  • Osteoarthritis

Hoof Abscesses

Hoof abscesses in horses are common and often extremely painful, being the most common cause of sudden onset lameness. Horses may appear as sore as if they would with a fractured limb.


The common cause is dirt and bacteria being pushed up the white line of the hoof, especially when seedy toe exists. This is likely to happen during wet conditions as the sole becomes softer. Abscesses can also develop as a result of trauma to the sole, such as bruising or a nail in the foot.

To diagnose an abscess the vet will check for heat in the foot, digital pulses and sensitivity to pressure. Sometimes an x-ray may be required to locate the abscess and rule out complications such as bone infections.

The key to treatment is achieving drainage. Our vets are trained to safely perform this. We do not recommend you carry out the procedure yourself as it is very easy to damage the sensitive structures surrounding the abscess. We also do not advise leaving the abscess to burst itself as this usually happens through the coronary band, permanently damaging the cells responsible for hoof growth.

Foot abscesses are also a potential entry point for Tetanus so it is essential to ensure your horse’s vaccinations are up to date.

Laminitis

Laminitis is a painful inflammatory condition of the tissues (laminae) that bond the hoof wall to the pedal (coffin) bone in the horse’s hoof.


It is often associated with spring grass growth and overweight ponies. It can vary in severity from the merest hint of lameness to serious cases where foundering (rotation or sinking of the pedal bone) occurs.

Spring grass or heavy grain-based diets can result in high blood sugars causing persistent high insulin levels in the blood; this is more likely in horses with Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) & PPID (formerly Cushing’s disease). This triggers damage in the laminae causing laminitis.

Treat laminitis as an emergency and call your vet immediately. If laminitis is not treated promptly, the pedal bone drops (these cases are described as “sinkers”) or the pedal bone can rotate downwards and become foundered.

While waiting for your vet, move the individual onto soft ground. Deep sand appears to be the most comfortable for them. If the animal cannot move, make sure water and hay are provided at its location. Replace the pasture with hay to reduce sugar levels, and ensure that your horse stays hydrated.

Once the initial phase has passed, long-term control will include corrective farriery/trimming and dietary control – which your vet will help you plan. We may also suggest testing for hormonal conditions that can increase the risk of attacks & x-rays to evaluate how much change in the feet has occurred.

EMS and PPID can greatly increase the risk of laminitis so early detection and management are crucial for preventing outbreaks. Laminitis can be the only obvious sign of one of these conditions existing in your horse/pony/donkey so discussing these syndromes with your vet if your horse has ever suffered from laminitis is important.

Consider use of grazing muzzles to slow consumption and yarding with hay during daylight when sugar levels are highest in the grass.

Please contact one of the Franklin Vets Equine Veterinarians for further information on products and a management plan specific to your situation.

 

Osteoarthritis

Continual wear and tear on the supportive soft tissues and the protective cartilages covering the bones in each high motion joint can lead to degeneration and osteoarthritis.


The hallmark of osteoarthritis is extra bone forming around the joint in an attempt to stabilise damaged tissues. It is a progressive disease that will affect the large majority of competition horses at some point and although it cannot be cured, regimes can be implemented to slow the process and alleviate associated pain to aid performance and welfare.

For definitive diagnosis and a more accurate prognosis, nerve block assessments and x-rays are needed. Both steps are important as bony change seen on x-rays are not always associated with lameness.

There are many varied management and drug regimes which help to alleviate the symptoms and pain associated with degenerative joint disease/arthritis:

  • Oral anti-inflammatories are useful in dampening the joints’ over-reaction to chronic stress injuries. They are ideal for use between events as the joint recovers to prevent detrimental effects of inflammation. Note – Competition withholds may apply and they should always be used under the direction of your vet.
  • Joint injections can give targeted treatment
  • Joint supplements help support healthy cartilage repair.

Where an obvious acute injury has occurred that may trigger early onset of arthritis, surgery and careful management/exercise regimes may be useful, alongside joint support to speed up the body’s repair and prevent further damage to the area. Surgery can also be useful to assess the full degree of damage and resultant prognosis in large joints giving more detail than x-rays and ultrasound scans.

It is important that horses continue with light exercise to keep joints supple through winter and when spelling to stimulate lubrication of the joint. This applies especially to older horses, which have a much greater risk of suffering from clinical signs of arthritis.

Contact the Franklin Vets Equine team for the best treatment options for your horse.