What are Osteochondrosis?
The abnormal development of soft cartilage cells that transform into hard bone is the beginning of OC. This abnormality causes lesions to occur. The treatment of the osteochondrosis depends on the location of the lesions and how they are affecting your horse. The prognosis is good for your horse if it is detected early or prevented by a careful diet.
Your equine veterinarian can perform imaging tests to determine the extent of the osteochondrosis; treatment may include medication, dietary supplementation or perhaps even surgery depending on the severity of the condition.
Osteochondrosis (OC) is caused by poor nutrition and rapid growth such as in a young horse. Equines require a wide range of nutrients to develop strong healthy bones.
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Symptoms of Osteochondrosis in Horses
- Foals who have trouble keeping up with their peers in the paddock
- Young horses who want to spend more time lying down
- Muscle atrophy
- Distension of the affected joint (fluid around the joint)
- Lameness or hobbling from your horse
- An upright conformation of the legs
- Stiffness during exercise or walking
- Osteochondrosis becomes established through the development and rapid growth of your horse, resulting in cartilage failure which is often found in the legs, joints, and vertebrae of the neck and back
- Osteochondrosis dissecans refers to a bone or cartilage fragment or crack that looks like a flap or slice
- Certain horse breeds are considered to be predisposed to this condition
- These include Warmbloods and Standardbred breeds
Causes of Osteochondrosis in Horses
- Because of the failure in the cartilage, the bones tend to rub on each other causing inflammation and excess growth of bone within the joint
- Fluid around the joint
- Quick growth in yearlings brought on by too rich feed and obsessive exercise
- Genetic factors are thought to be a possible cause of this condition
- Lack of minerals or an excess of some may be the cause
- Failure of normal cartilage development
- Bone fragments
Diagnosis of Osteochondrosis in Horses
Observation is the first step to diagnosis that will provide an early warning in case your horse develops osteochondrosis. If your horse is lying down more than before (especially a young horse) or has problems moving, it would be advisable to seek veterinary advice. After a physical examination of your horse, he may do a radiographic examination. The problem with this methodology is that early lesions involving the cartilage may not be noticed. Depending on the location of the lesion, it can be difficult to get visual on what is happening.
Therefore, examination via ultrasound of the swollen areas can help isolate the inflammation or damage to the area. The best diagnosis confirmation is from the use of arthroscopy. This minimally invasive surgical procedure allows the insertion into the joint to evaluate any damage. Following the surgery, the joint is usually flushed out which assists in treating the inflammation. The procedure is non-traumatic for your horse and takes only 90 minutes on average for the veterinary team to perform.
Treatment of Osteochondrosis in Horses
Treatment will depend on where the OC site is, and how severe the condition is. If your horse is still growing (12 months old) and the case is fairly mild, restricting your horses’ exercise and reducing its feed to slow down the growth rate may be recommended. Your veterinarian will be able to advise on supplements if a deficiency is suspected. Corticosteroids injections may be beneficial for an older horse but it is not recommended if your horse is still in its growth phase.
As suggested in diagnosis, arthroscopy can assist for surgery requirements especially in the hock, stifle and fetlock areas. It is relatively easy to remove damaged bone fragments and then flush the site excessively with a sterile fluid. Prognosis depends on the amount of damage and the joint surface area that may have to be removed. Shoulder OC damage can cause instability in advanced cases. Where subchondral cysts are involved the prognosis is guarded as they are often in areas where weight bearing joints are, and it becomes difficult to restore the joint surface.
Recovery of Osteochondrosis in Horses
Prevention is always the best course of action and can be achieved most of the time through a balanced diet containing minerals and vitamins as advised by the veterinarian for your horse. Foals, weanlings and yearlings need to have the correct amount of exercise – not excessive but regular calm exercise to encourage natural growth rates. Regular measurement of girth and height along with weight can be used to analysis growth. Regular observation of your horse and its habits will help detect any developing problems. If your horse is young in years, checking the correct alignment of its limb development- any deviation from normal needs to be examined to discover any abnormalities. Quick attention to any stiffness, lameness or joint abnormalities is advisable.