What are Osselets?
The Latin meaning of osselet is little bone. In the early stages of an osselet, the condition is referred to as a green osselet. Typically, osselets occur in both front metacarpophalangeal joints. As the condition progresses, calcified callus continues to form within the joint. Untreated osselets in horses can lead to acute arthritis, new bone growth, bone spurs, damaged cartilage, bone fragmentation, and lameness. Osselets can cause extreme pain for the horse.
If your horse’s fetlock joint is swelling, it is imperative that he is seen by a veterinarian. Early diagnoses of osselets will ensure a better prognosis for the horse.
Osselets in horses happens when the horse’s metacarpophalangeal joint (fetlock) experiences chronic stress injury. This stress injury causes inflammation at the joint. Osselets in horses is also known as fetlock injury.
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Symptoms of Osselets in Horses
Symptoms may include:
- Hot swelling on the front of the fetlock join
- Abnormal choppy gait
- Thickened joint capsule
- Ulcerated cartilage
- Synovial distention on the sides of the joint, known as wind puffs
Causes of Osselets in Horses
Osselets in horses is caused by chronic stress injury to the fetlock joint to one or both legs. Chronic stress injury can happen by:
- Re-occurring shock forces during racing and training
- Hard training in young horses
- Rushed conditioning
- Ill-fitting tack
- Working on hard surfaces
- Poor shoeing
- Horse is ridden on rugged and uneven terrain
- Upright and short pasterns
Diagnosis of Osselets in Horses
The veterinarian will go over the medical history of your horse. The veterinarian will need to know what symptoms you have observed and when they started. Let your veterinarian know if your horse has had any recent injury or stress.
The equine veterinarian may want to observe your horse walking first hand. The veterinarian will then perform a physical exam on the patient; palpating the limbs and muscles. He will evaluate whether your horse shows pain when touched. The veterinarian will check the overall condition of your horse as well, including heart rate, pulse, and lung sounds.
After the physical examination, the veterinarian may suggest taking x-rays of both legs. The x-rays will help determine if there is any new bone growth, bone fragmentation, or spurs. The veterinarian may suggest an infrared thermography (IRT), which takes a thermal image of the fetlock joint.
A complete blood count (CBC), will make sure the platelets, and red and white blood cell counts are all within the normal range. A complete blood count can also help determine if your equine companion has a bacterial infection.
Treatment of Osselets in Horses
If the veterinarian diagnoses an osselet, the first thing he probably will suggest is rest. Activity will be very restricted. Usually, stall rest is recommended for up to 6 weeks. It is important that your horse does not return to activity too early.
The veterinarian may also suggest alternating cold and hot treatment of the area. This will help with swelling and inflammation of the fetlocks. Cold hosing may also be recommended. Whirlpool boots and the application of the ointment dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) can also help with the swelling. Having a professional farrier fit your horse with therapeutic shoeing and special cushioned, shock absorbing pads may be required. In some cases, the patient may benefit from no impact swimming as a rehabilitating exercise.
Drugs that may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation are injections of polysulfide glycosaminoglycan or sodium hyaluronate.
Patients with advanced cases of osselets may have ulcerations of the joint cartilage. This type of damage may cause recurring lameness for the rest of your horse’s life. Bone fragments may need to be surgically removed; laser surgery may be suggested. Laser surgery usually does not require general anesthesia.
Recovery of Osselets in Horses
It is important to follow the treatment plan and post-operative instructions the veterinarian has recommended for your horse. Follow-up visits will be necessary to monitor the progress. The veterinarian will determine when your horse can resume exercise. Repeat x-rays will be necessary to check on the injured metacarpophalangeal joint (fetlock). Most patients treated in the early stages of osselet make a full recovery. Osselets in horses can reoccur, so it is important to prevent chronic stress injuries. Your horse should not be rushed in conditioning or training. The riding terrain you frequent may need to be re-evaluated. Regular visits with a professional farrier are essential. Improper shoeing can cause serious injuries.