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, congenital or acquired disorders, infection, metabolic disorders, or nervous circulatory system disease. Pain is the most common cause of lameness in all horses.

It is critical to identify the cause of lameness because treatment will vary greatly depending on the cause. A horse will be examined from a distance and up close with a thorough palpation of the legs. The vast majority of all lameness originate in the foot so a thorough test of the hoof, sole and heels will be carried out.

Diagnostics using digital radiography and ultrasonography can be employed to determine the exact cause of lameness.

Franklin Vets are proud to have a close relationship with Matamata Vets, and this is our first choice for referring patients and where we seek specialist advice on tricky cases from.

Common causes of lameness:

  • Hoof abscesses
  • Laminitis
  • Osteoarthritis

Hoof Abscesses

Hoof Abscesses in horses are a common occurrence and can be extremely painful. It is the most common cause of sudden onset lameness, sometimes non-weight bearing on the toe. Owners often presume their horses have a fractured limb or injury from kicking.


The common cause is dirt and bacteria being pushed up the white line of the hoof. This is likely to happen during wet conditions as the sole becomes softer. Sub-solar abscesses can also develop as a result of trauma to the sole, through bruising or direct penetration.

As well as showing varying degrees of lameness, a horse with an abscess will be sensitive to hoof testers or percussion and may have lower leg swelling. Diagnosis is fairly simple with straight forward abscesses. The affected foot may have heat in it and a stronger digital pulse. With more complicated under-run soles, x-rays may be indicated to track where the pus is heading.

The key to treatment is achieving drainage, preferably at the sole or white line margin. If left untreated, inflammatory fluid can track up the white line and burst out at the coronary band. This results in prolonged healing and disruption of new hoof growth.

Our vets are trained to perform the safe drainage procedure without damaging the sensitive structures surrounding the abscess. Once drainage is established we use poulticing therapy and then iodine treatment to make sure no pockets of fluid are left and that the new sole has had a chance to keratinize, or harden.

Your horse will receive sufficient pain relief. Franklin Vets does not advise you to carry out the procedure yourself and recommends that you are up to date with Tetanus injections to provide protection at the time of treatment.

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 a serious case referred to as sinking

Spring grass or heavy grain diets have high levels of carbohydrates that when eaten produce high blood sugars resulting in persistent high insulin hormone being released from the pancreas. These high levels of insulin have been shown in recent years to be heavily associated with laminitic bouts and appear to be the reason horses suffering from Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) & PPID (formerly Cushing’s disease) more frequently suffer from this painful disease. This is now considered a major cause of pasture-associated laminitis.

Treat laminitis as an emergency. 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.

Where possible, 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.

As mentioned above, EMS and PPID are two conditions whose presence can greatly increase risk of laminitis so early detection and management is paramount in preventing outbreaks. Laminitis can be the only obvious sign of one of these conditions existing in their 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 for your situation.

 

Osteoarthritis

Normal joint cartilage is a protective surface to the bones which, along with the synovial fluid bathing the joint capsule, allows smooth movement of a joint during motion.


Continual wear and tear on the delicate cartilages and associated soft tissues (particularly in the fetlock and knee or hock) from loading during performance/competition work can lead to joint disease.

The ongoing trauma-repair battle amid the negative effects of associated inflammation, eventually stimulates the body to produce extra bone around the joint in an attempt to stabilise it, this is the hallmark of osteoarthritis. It is a progressive disease that will affect the large majority of competition horses at some point and although 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 often x-rays are indicated. Both steps in diagnostics are important as bony change seen on x-rays, may not necessarily be the cause of the lameness, and may be the historic remnants of old issues.

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 such as Bute 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.

Injectables such as Corticosteroid give a more direct treatment of inflammatory joint problems. Joint supplements direct into joint or via muscle/vein injection for more direct absorption.

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 radiographs and ultrasound scans.

It is important that horses continue with light exercise to keep joints supple through winter and when spelling – especially older horses who have a much greater risk of suffering from clinical signs of arthritis.

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