What is Pelvic Fracture?
Any horse can experience a pelvic fracture, but horses that are older generally have a harder time of healing from a fracture. Depending on the placement of the fracture, your horse may be able to return to full, normal activity once the fracture has healed. This includes breeding, racing and jumping.
Pelvic fractures in horses occur more often than you would think. Usually, pelvic fractures occur due to some form of trauma that the horse has sustained, but there are cases where the exact cause of the pelvic fracture leans more toward low bone density in the bones of the pelvis.
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Symptoms of Pelvic Fracture in Horses
When working with a horse that is in pain, be sure to practice extreme caution as their behavior can be altered and they can become aggressive or unpredictable. If you notice your horse exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for a full assessment to determine if your horse has a pelvic fracture.
- Shorter steps on the affected side
- Asymmetry of the pelvis
- Swelling of the affected area
- Loss of muscle tone in the affected area
- Unable to have a full range of movement
- Reluctant to walk
- Refusal to accept a rider or tack
- Unable to cross their legs when moving in a tight circle
Causes of Pelvic Fracture in Horses
There are only two causes of pelvic fractures in horses, traumatic injury and stress fracture. Your veterinarian should be able to determine which cause has affected your horse when they diagnose the pelvic fracture.
Pelvic fractures occurring from a traumatic injury is many times diagnosed based on the history and the type of injury sustained. When a horse slips or falls on their side, it can result in a pelvic fracture. Horses can even fracture their pelvis when they bump into a stall gate or a race track starting gate. If you see your horse slip into a spread eagle position in the rear, it is very likely that a pelvic fracture will result.
Stress fractures in the pelvis occur when the large muscles on the fulcrum contract over places where bone fatigue is present. If not diagnosed and treated immediately, stress fractures can develop into full bone fractures.
Diagnosis of Pelvic Fracture in Horses
While diagnosing a full bone fracture in the pelvis can be obvious, your veterinarian may have a more difficult time diagnosing a stress fracture within the pelvis. Many times, pelvic stress fractures are misdiagnosed as a muscle injury.
A complete physical examination as well as a full medical history will help in determining the proper diagnosis. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any incidences where the possible injury could have occurred.
It is almost impossible to x-ray the pelvis of a horse, therefore, your veterinarian will most likely use an ultrasound to view the bones and joints within the pelvis and definitively diagnose a pelvic fracture.
Your veterinarian may also use a bone scan to diagnose a full bone pelvic fracture. Bone scans have been useful in identifying incomplete fractures or stress fractures within the pelvis.
Treatment of Pelvic Fracture in Horses
After your veterinarian has diagnosed a pelvic fracture, a treatment plan will be set for your horse’s recovery process. Be sure to follow the instructions given and direct any questions to your veterinarian regarding your horse’s treatments and prognosis.
If your horse is suffering from an incomplete fracture or a stress fracture, long term rest will be prescribed. This means that your horse will need to be confined to their stall for anywhere from three to six months, in some instances longer confinement is necessary. During this time, your horse will need to be walked on lead rather than be turned out into a pasture for exercise. Exercise is to be kept to a minimum. Your veterinarian will do routine ultrasounds to verify that the fracture is healing.
If your horse is suffering from a full, trauma induced pelvic fracture, the treatment plan will include long term rest along with anti-inflammatory medications to reduce any swelling within the pelvis. Your veterinarian will continue to monitor your horse’s progress by performing scheduled ultrasounds and bone scans.
As your horse progresses, your veterinarian will begin adding in exercises to rehabilitate your horse back into their pre-fracture routine. Gradual return to work will be the main goal for your horse.
Recovery of Pelvic Fracture in Horses
Your veterinarian will be able to give you a more specific prognosis for your horse. Many horses are able to return to their work following a pelvic fracture, including racing, jumping and breeding. There are other horses that will not be able to return to full pre-fracture health. These horses will be able to live a normal life as a pasture horse, but not as a work horse.
To ensure that your horse has the best chance of making a full recovery, be sure to listen to your veterinarian and follow all instructions as given. Trying to rush your horse’s recovery could be detrimental to their healing process.
Pelvic Fracture Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have obtained a horse OTT. Been padlocked for 12 months. Has short stepping of offhind leg. There is like knotted muscle over pelvic bone. Any possibility that this horse can be rehabilitated. Thanks
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