Equine Lameness: What You Need to Know
Lameness in horses is a serious and painful problem with several possible causes, and it is important to notice the signs early to improve the chances of successful treatment. Lameness is a problem if your horse‘s gait is abnormal in any way. In some cases, the way a horse’s head bobs can indicate that he or she is having difficulty.
Lameness can stem from pain and inflammation to severe injury to the feet, bones, joints, muscles, tendons or ligaments. Overwork and improper conditioning can also cause problems, and there are several types of inflammatory, neurological and infectious diseases that may induce lameness, too.
Preventing, Diagnosing and Treating Equine Lameness
Preventing lameness is always preferable to treating it afterward, but this is not always possible. Some preventative measures you can take, however, are making sure not to overwork your horse, ensure he or she has proper training and conditioning for daily tasks, proper farrier work and hoof care, and regular veterinary checkups. Sound nutrition, proper rest and hydration are also critical for avoiding lameness due to health problems.
When prevention does not work, however, it is important to notice the signs of lameness promptly and to engage the help of your veterinarian right away. Dr. Harris will first watch your horse as he or she walks from a distance, and from all sides to evaluate any asymmetries showing the horse overcompensating in one area because of injury to another area. Then, she examines your horse by touch (“palpation”) to evaluate tissue tenderness, texture, heat, inflammation, etc. in the joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Dr. Harris will also bend and flex the legs and check your horse’s hooves carefully. Nerve blocks, joint blocks, thermal imaging and x-rays can further isolate the area with the problem. She will use a scoring system from 0 (no noticeable problems) to 5 (severe lameness, even during rest) to rank how bad the lameness is.
After isolating the cause of the lameness, Dr. Harris can recommend a regimen of treatment. Of course, treatments vary widely, ranging from rest, anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation programs, laser therapy, ESWT, all the way to surgery—it simply depends on the reason behind the horse’s lameness. As equine veterinary science continues to advance, newer treatments are coming out all the time to help resolve lameness. Everything from stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma to alternative treatments, such as equine chiropractic care, are possible options.
If lameness strikes your horse, please call us for an appointment.