Lameness: when to call the vet

  • Lameness is about the most common reason for calling the vet and accounts of most casualties at racecourses and competitions, so what should you do if your horse goes suddenly lame?

    As a basic rule, owners should be guided by the degree of lameness rather than swelling. A really lame horse that hardly puts weight on the leg should be seen by the vet urgently, while a filled leg with no lameness is unlikely to require urgent veterinary attention.

    Any significant wound in association with lameness warrants a call out, as wounds are not painful in the early stages and disability might indicate damage to deeper structures or the presence of infection.

    If you suspect that the bone might be involved, either because it is exposed, or because the conformation of the leg has become odd or the limb is abnormally floppy, urgent attention is essential.

    Indications of significant pain such as sweating, refusal to eat, agitation or depression mean that the horse must be seen by the vet. However, it is safe to wait and see under some circumstances, such as mild lameness for no apparent reason.

    There is no compromise of welfare if the horse is settled, eating and relaxed, but lame horses should never be worked until the cause has been determined. If a few days’ rest resolves the problem, gentle work may be resumed.

    A generally swollen limb with no lameness may benefit from walking exercise, cold hosing and firm stable bandages. Wait a day or two if the lameness is mild and the swelling responds to the bandaging. It may be easier to examine the limb once the swelling has subsided, but if the lameness gets worse, seek advice immediately.

  • Peter Green discusses lameness diagnosis in the 11 March issue of Horse & Hound.

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