Broken Bones in Horses

PetMD Editorial
Aug 20, 2008
3 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Fractures in Horses

Treating fractures in horses used to be quite difficult, and for that reason most afflicted horses were euthanized. Fortunately, as time has progressed so has technology, making it easier to treat these types of cases.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms of a fracture are dependent on the area of the fracture; among them:

  • Severe pain in or around the fracture
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Strange posturing
  • Lifting the affected leg off the ground
  • Strange angle of affected leg
  • Failure to place weight on affected leg or an uneven weight distribution

Causes

There are a variety of situations where a horse might fracture a bone, but it most often occurs when excessive force is directed at the bone or at an unusual angle. This can happen as a result of an awkward kick, a bad fall, a misstep, or from undue strain at competitive events. Bone fractures are most often seen in racetrack horses because of the high level of intensity in racing.

Diagnosis

Some bone fractures are easier to diagnose than others. While many fractures display external, visible signs, others are less obvious. If there are no outer signs of a bone fracture, a veterinarian may take X-rays, or use scintigraphy (a device which uses radioactive tracers to generate an image of the affected area).

Treatment

Once the symptoms of a bone fracture are noticed, it is important to keep your horse as still as possible in order to prevent further injury. If the fracture is treatable, the horse will likely be carefully moved to a clinic where an operation to repair the fracture can be performed. In the case of a lower limb fracture, the limb should be immobilized to prevent further injury until medical support can be administered. This can be accomplished by applying a splint – a bandage used to temporarily support the fracture – or a removable cast, although the former is more likely and more useful.

Living and Management

After treating the fracture, the horse should be kept still and isolated for as long as the veterinarian has instructed, allowing the fractured limb time to heal. Sometimes, this period of immobility can last months. A healthy and well-balanced diet is also critical for a speedy recovery, as it allows the body to recuperate after a stressful procedure.  Horse owners must also be aware of the health of the other limbs during this recovery process. Cases of laminitis (founder) have occurred in the opposite, weight-bearing foot due to the added stress of carrying extra weight. Be sure to heavily bed the stall with plenty of straw or shavings. Also, monitor the cast or wrap for signs of swelling or the development of cast sores.

Prevention

There really is no way to prevent bone fractures in horses, since they are usually caused by undue stress on a certain area, or an accidental injury. However, paying close attention to your horse (and any symptoms listed above) can help in identifying the fracture and treating it before it becomes too severe.

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