Katie Hennessy

Watch for Lameness in Your Horse

If you have ever owned or been around horses, then you are probably familiar with lameness issues. Lameness is a change to a normal gait. You may notice your horse limping when they move or they may feel different while you are riding. Lameness in a horse indicates pain, the reason they are changing the way they move is to try and avoid pain. Lameness can be from numerous reasons but the more common causes that we see are hoof abscesses, tendon injuries and laminitis.  


A hoof abscess is a pocket of infection inside the hoof. This can occur from a bruise (your horse may have stepped on a rock or something hard) that has developed into an infection. Or the hoof wall may have a crack that allows debris and bacteria in that creates an infection. It doesn’t matter what caused it, hoof abscesses are painful and most horses try to avoid using the affected limb. Soaking the foot in epsom salts and warm water is a great way to encourage the abscess to rupture. Another option is to wrap the foot with ichthammol to try and pull out the infection. If home remedies do not help within a couple of days, contact your veterinarian to make sure you are dealing with the correct problem. 


Tendon injuries can be very serious and result in swelling, pain and heat along the leg. These injuries can occur suddenly and result in a significant lameness. The best plan is cold hosing the area, stall rest and compression. It is best to contact your veterinarian right away to get appropriate guidance. 


Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae of the foot, laminae is the soft tissue that connects the coffin bone to the hoof wall. Laminitis is a serious disease as it causes a great deal of pain for the horse, as well as hoof instability. The inflammation causes a disruption in blood flow to the laminae, which can result in significant lameness. The horse will often shift their weight to the hind legs and stretch out the front legs. Laminitis should be considered a medical emergency and treatment started immediately. Although a horse is unlikely to die from the disease, it can cause damage severe enough in some cases to warrant euthanasia. Radiographs of the feet are the only way to know for sure how much damage (rotation of the coffin bone) has occurred. 


With any lameness, contacting your veterinarian is the best plan of action. A correct diagnosis can improve the comfort of your horse and lead to a faster healing process. 


This column is sponsored by Polk Equine.


BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine.  She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine.  Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.

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