Lameness in Horses

Lameness in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Most common symptoms

Limping

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Rated as moderate conditon

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Most common symptoms

Limping

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Lameness in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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What are Lameness?

Lameness is not an uncommon condition in equines, and most horses will experience it at some point in their lives. Defined as an abnormal gait or stance caused by a disorder of the locomotor system, this condition can range from a light limp to refusing to put any weight on the limb at all, and it may or may not occur concurrently with pain. Although lameness is relatively common in equines, it can also be serious and should be evaluated by a veterinary professional.

Lameness in horses is an abnormal gait or stance due to a disorder of the locomotor system and can have many causes, and therefore, many treatment options may be available.

Symptoms of Lameness in Horses

Most of the signs that indicate that a horse is lame are apparent even to the untrained eye; however, other indicators might not be so obvious. It can depend on the reason for the lameness as well as its severity. 

  • Behavior changes
  • Generalized limping
  • Inability to put weight on the limb
  • Poor performance
  • Reluctance to stand 

Types

 

With front limb lameness, the horse will often lift its head higher when stepping on the distressed limb, and drop it when putting the weight on the sound limb. The animal may not place the foot down the same way it normally does, and the stride on one forelimb may be much shorter than on the other. 

When a hind limb or foot is involved the disorder will be most apparent when viewing the horse from behind. Like with the front leg, the foot placement may appear odd, and the stride may be shorter on one side than the other, but the dragging of the hoof is more common with the hind limb. When the horse walks, it will lift its hip on the lame side to avoid putting as much weight on it and will allow the other side to dip a little bit to compensate.

Causes of Lameness in Horses

The feet and legs of a horse are essential to its health and well-being, but it is also a common point of injury. It is not uncommon for horses to experience some form of lameness in their lifetime, sometimes many times in their life.Many conditions can lead to lameness, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Back injuries
  • Bacterial infection
  • Bursitis
  • Cancer
  • Cankers 
  • Degenerative joint disorders
  • Foot wounds
  • Fractures
  • Fungal infection
  • Hoof cracks
  • Laminitis
  • Limb deformities
  • Navicular disease
  • Poor foot conformation
  • Rocks
  • Septic bursitis
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Stringhalt 
  • Thrush
  • Wounds on the leg

Diagnosis of Lameness in Horses

When dealing with a lame horse, the diagnosis has two main goals. The first goal is to determine where the pain or weakness is originating from. This can be more complicated than it seems, particularly when the signs of lameness seem to be affecting more than one limb. Research on the subject indicates that observers are better able to correctly identify front limb lameness than lameness of the hind limb. The second goal is to determine to underlying cause so that a proper treatment plan can be selected.

Diagnosis will generally start with a complete physical, with particular attention being paid to the legs and feet. A full history of the animal, including its activity levels, diet, and living conditions, may help determine the cause of the injury or weakness as well. The examining veterinarian will also probably conduct a lameness exam to evaluate the animal moving at different gaits. A complete blood count and biochemical profile will help establish if any infections are present, and a lactic acid test may either confirm or rule out laminitis. X-ray, ultrasound, and even scintigraphy may be utilized to check for any fractures or other abnormalities that may not be apparent from the initial exam.

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Treatment of Lameness in Horses

The treatment for a lame horse will depend heavily on the cause of the lameness. Rest and hand walking are standard recommendations for lame horses, suggested in order to reduce the load on the leg that is affected so that healing can take place. NSAID pain management medication is also frequently employed to reduce the inflammation and vasodilation. It is essential to only use NSAID drugs as directed as they can become toxic at higher doses. Lameness can often be helped by proper shoeing.

This can mean simply refitting shoes that do not fit properly, providing the horse with specialized hospital shoes that both cover the bottom of the foot and also to open, giving easy access to caregivers, or even creating shoes specifically for that horse, used most often for horses with limb deformities or abnormalities. Antibiotic or antifungal treatments will most likely be prescribed if any infection is uncovered during testing and in some cases, corticosteroids are helpful as well. Some forms of lameness are best treated with surgery, particularly with certain kinds of deformities, bone fragments, or cancers.

Recovery of Lameness in Horses

In most cases restricted exercise will be required for full healing, particularly if the treatment is focused on the bone, tendon, or joints. If your horse needs equine surgery, you will be given specific instructions from your veterinarian regarding post surgery care for your horse.  In most cases, stall confinement will be necessary for a short time to facilitate healing and regrowth. This can be a difficult transition for many animals, and depending on the temperament of the horse, sedation may be needed to keep the animal tranquil during this healing period. Once they are allowed out of their stall for exercise, they may require close supervision or hand-walking until they are suitably restored.

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Lameness Average Cost

From 303 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

Lameness Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Dallas

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Paint

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19 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Lame

Dallas was diagnosed by my vet after doing lame exam and nerve block And seemed to have lameness in rt front possible coffin bone. He was given equinox and seemed better but have since taken Him Off of that med and for a couple days was sound but I rhode yesterday and he is still off on the right front. My vet is gonna come back out next week to Check on him. No heat no swelling and is sound at the walk. He is 19 years old has only been on ulcer guard. If he doesn’t get better would injections be the route to go?

Sept. 13, 2018

Dallas' Owner

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Job

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dutch hores

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8 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Lameness In Front Limb

Greeting, This is Reem Kalbani, an owner of 8 yr old showjumper dutch horse. I would like to ask you a favor please; i need your opinion in this controversy case: Back to June 5, 2018, my horse start to lame in his right front limb. A vet came and gave him 3 shoots of " carprofen", with box rest but nothing improved. We do x-rays. According to x-rays, we do cold hosing with an ice pack, 20 minutes session, twice daily. Also nothing improved. Another vet said that there is a possibility of a trauma causing the lameness, so he recommends ekyflogyl, that was not available here in Jordan, but a pharmacist prepare it for us. After shaving the horse limb, we gave him ekyflogyl twice daily. 3-4 days later, no improvement, and actually, the case get worsens. We notice the limb was shaking while the horse was standing. We do another x-rays, and sent the horse to a veterinary health center on June 27. There, the dr. examines the limbs, trotting the horse up in a straight line and on a circle on soft and hard surfaces, and do plus nerve blocks. The results according to the dr. were completely normal! Laminitis was excluded. The dr. prescribed: - adequan - Fercobsang - Metacam I use HAVANS to feed my horse beside Oats. i really appreciate if I have your opinion, I don’t know what to do?! Sincerely, Reem

June 30, 2018

Job's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I would love to give you an opinion on Job, but without seeing the x-rays or being able to actually examine him, it isn't possible for me to do so. It seems that you are seeking good veterinary care, and the medications that they are prescribing are reasonable. At this point it may be a good idea to follow the advice of the most recent veterinarian and see if those medications improve the situation.

June 30, 2018

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Jaguh

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Thoroughbred

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8 Years

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Serious condition

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0 found helpful

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Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Lame

Hi there, i am a veterinary student, am asking what would be the management plan and client advice if the horse horse is diagnosed with permanent lameness? Shall we keep the horse and manage it on long term medicine subscription if the owner is willing to do so, or we should put it down in regards to animal welfare and natural behavior.

June 23, 2018

Jaguh's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

The answer to your question depends on the cause, degree and severity of lameness. Each case is individual and in the end, we have a responsibility to make sure the horse is not suffering.

June 23, 2018

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Drake

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Thoroughbred

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3 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

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Mild condition

Has Symptoms

New horse became lame suddenly. 3 year old TB fed free choice alfalfa and grain diet. No heat, swelling or major tenderness observed. No increased pulse, heart rate or respiratory rate observed on day lameness was discovered. Most pronounced at the trot with head bob observed. No rocks or debris in hoof. Barefoot trim three days before lameness began. Horse has short toes and naturally upright, small feet.

June 4, 2018

Drake's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

With the head bobbing I’m assuming it is a foreleg, but you didn’t specify; however without examining Drake thoroughly and seeing him walk and trot it would be difficult to narrow in on a cause. You should give restricted exercise and monitor for improvement if there is no obvious site of injury and call out your Veterinarian if there is no improvement. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 5, 2018

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Wow

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Thoroughbred

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8 Years

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Fair condition

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0 found helpful

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Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Lame On Front

Just purchased my daughters 4H horse who turned up lame 2 weeks ago. There is no swelling or heat but a definite bob of the head when we trot her. How long should I give for healing? Should I call a vet?

April 27, 2018

Wow's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

If you are noticing a head bob when a particular leg is planted down then this may be an indication of lameness; you should give a few weeks rest but you should also ensure that Wow has good shoes and is otherwise in good condition. Calling out your Veterinarian should be done if you have any concerns, you notice any other particular symptoms or there is no improvement. Without examining Wow I cannot say how severe the lameness is or what the best course of action would be. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

April 28, 2018

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spartan

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Quarter Horse

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3 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Limp

2 days ago i brought my 3 year old up to the barn to go on a ride. while i was lunging him i noticed he was limping at a trot but was walking fine at a walk. i’m not sure if he has a abscess or if he’s lame. i’ve had him for about 2 1/2 years now and he’s only had one injury in his back right but he’s limping on his front left...? i don’t feel any heat in his feet or any sign of a abscess... help??

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Bess

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Arabian

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4 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

Bess was limping this morning. I am asking for further advice on what to do next. She is unwilling to trot but seems alright otherwise when she moves. I did not detect any hoof injuries or heat/swelling on either of her legs. I am having her evaluated by our vet tomorrow afternoon to determine what is the issue with her. Condition seemed mild.

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Sissy

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Quarter Horse

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15 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

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Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Lame In Front Left

On Dec. 18th, I rode my mare and she was sound. We did a little barrel work then went out into an open field and did some galloping and such. There were a few wet spots that were hard to see so she may have slipped a little. When we went to go home, I noticed she was lame. I walked her home and when we got there, she didn’t want to put any weight on her front left. I cold hosed it, wrapped it, and turned her out (didn’t have the option to stall) over the next week she improved. I never noticed any swelling or heat anywhere. But now it’s been 9 weeks and she still occasionally shows signs of lameness. She has since gotten front shoes for the first time in my care. I’ve noticed that on warmer days, she seems to be feeling better and if the weather suddenly changes, she will have a slight limp again. She is mostly lame at the trot and just has a small head bob at the trot. Any ideas on treatment/causes?

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max

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cob x tb

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14 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild condition

Has Symptoms

My mare was slightly off in front after a one day event. Got the vet up the next week as she still wasn't right on the turn. She was 2/10ths lame on a hard circle but same in both front legs.but came sound after nerve blocking coffin joint. No heat swelling or reaction to hoof testers. X rays showed her toes were much too long and she had mild kissing spine. She was put in natural balance shoes and had the back injected and continued with a rehab program. She is much happier in her work but still a bit off on the turn. Vet said its normal for a horse her age to be a bit stiff on the turn and says its partially down to muscle memory of the pain and told me to crack on as she is sound in straight lines and after flexion tests however we want to do some dressage and don't want to be pulled up. she is not bad just seems to shuffle and on the hard circle she is reluctant to go forwards like she did when she had nerve blocks. came sound with nerve blocks. It has been 3 months since her shoes changed. Should i give her longer to get used to her new shoes, is it normal for them to be a bit stuffy on the turn (10m) or should i get her re investigated?

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Cherry on Top

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Irish Sport Horse

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7 Years

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Mild condition

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2 found helpful

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Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Lame Front Right At Trot

Cherry has had multiple abscesses front right, spanning over the last 2 weeks. Hot soak with Epsom salts and beta dine for the first ten days (it took 9 days to pop) after finding stone in hoof. Stall rest. Abscess seemed to come out the bottom of hoof, and was sound. Turned out, got shod (front shoes only and was due) came up lame 3 days later. Back on stall rest and soaking, abscess burst, seemed sound. Saw another lump on same foot near coronary band, other side of hoof from burst abscess at coronary band, turned out. Seems sound at walk, bronc bucked a few times and trotted lame. No heat, no swelling, no bute in 4 days. No discomfort. No hesitation to pick up feet for me. Vet will see her again on Tuesday, suggests xrays to see if there is something else going on. Vet has been out to see her and consult frequently throughout the process. Possible bacterial infection in hoof or sole tenderness? Lots of wet mud and muck, slippery footing since we have had a wet year, heavy rain every few days, when this area is normally pretty arid.

Lameness Average Cost

From 303 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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