What are Epiphysitis?
Although the exact cause of this disease is unknown, a rich diet is certainly agreed as a high-risk factor for developing this condition while some experts suggest genetics. The rapid development of the bone can result in swelling or inflammation. This is noticeable on the knee joint and inside the fetlock. The rapid growth of the body weight puts a lot of pressure on the developing skeletal structure causing defects.
This is a bone disease found in young horses resulting in the enlargement in the growth plates of longer bone sections such as the tibia.
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Symptoms of Epiphysitis in Horses
- Pain and swelling in the joints that are sensitive to touch
- Crooked shaped and angled legs
- In severe cases your horses may be unable to stand
- Overweight foals that are developing rapidly
- General soreness resulting in lameness
- Unwillingness to partake in play and running
- Odd shaped knee joints
If your large foal is growing at an above average rate of growth, they may be at risk of the following conditions as their bones strive to keep up.
- Epiphysitis - Describes overgrown growth plates that can be painful
- Osteochondrosis dessicans – Bones and cartilage defects
- Developmental orthopedic disease
- Angular limb deformities
- Wobblers syndrome
Causes of Epiphysitis in Horses
- Experts are divided on what causes this condition and opinions are divided
- Inability of cartilage to undergo normal transformation into bone
- Lack of variety in the diet causing nutritional imbalances
- Lack of minerals
- Too much grain in the diet which adds weight
- An imbalance of nutritional needs
- A rich diet is an agreed risk factor
Diagnosis of Epiphysitis in Horses
This condition often occurs around young weanlings especially if they have been fed a lush diet. Too much grain for your young horse, or sweet feed can trigger a growth phase that the bones find hard to keep up with and support. Careful observation and clinical signs are the beginning of the diagnosis. Your veterinarian will want to know the diet your horse has been having and will do an examination of your horse. Some areas of swelling may be very sensitive causing your horse to move suddenly. In advanced conditions, the legs often look bow legged and the joints look boxy. Your horse may have an unusual stance to keep his balance if he is suffering from epiphysitis. Diet analysis is often the first consideration by your veterinarian, and to ascertain whether there are any nutritional imbalances. Other methods to check the growing bones include radiographs which may show what is happening to the bones and joints.
Treatment of Epiphysitis in Horses
The sooner this condition is identified the easier it is to correct it. If you ignore epiphysitis then the condition can become serious with deformities in the limbs causing problems for your horse’s mobility. Severe conditions may need surgery to correct the defects and strengthen your horse’s lower limbs. Diet is the most effective method of treatment, and generally decreasing the overall diet to lose weight and slow down growth is advised. A diet restricting grains and sweet foods should be maintained to help your young horse lose weight. Your veterinarian will prescribe a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that will give your horse relief from pain and it can help reduce the inflammation of joints. Your young foal should be restricted from intense exercise and kept in a confined space with a soft flooring to protect the joint and allow healing. Some exercise is great to strengthen the bones, just not vigorous activity until he is healed.
Recovery of Epiphysitis in Horses
Improvement can be seen within a short few weeks after changing the diet, and once the swelling and pain has gone your horse can get more active and gradually increase its exercise. It is a good idea to have your veterinarian do another radiograph to check the progress of the recovery. He can also advise whether your horse may need supplements of minerals and a dietary overhaul. Your veterinarian can suggest what minerals need to be added if feeding a certain item such as alfalfa hay, which can be very high in calcium. Grains often have a high phosphorous content so your horse will need plenty of calcium to balance that out. While your horse is young and growing, diet is important as it is crucial to get it right to enable your horse to grow up strong and healthy.