Lameness Exam: When to Seek a Professional


“The vast majority of lameness issues can be resolved in the field,” notes Carter E. Judy, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, staff surgeon at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif. However, consider a referral to a specialty clinic when:

  • Routine procedures such as nerve blocks, radiography and ultrasound have not diagnosed the problem.
  • The horse cannot bear weight on a limb and simple causes have been ruled out.
  • When lameness has persisted for up to several months.
  • A little more expense up front will pay dividends in the end,” Judy advises. “When a veterinarian knows what the problem is, he or she is better able to hone the treatment regimen. This not only increases the overall prognosis but reduces the cost because valuable time and expenses are not wasted treating everything that could be wrong with the horse,” says Judy.

For example, diagnostic nerve blocks show that a horse has a severe lameness in the right front leg, localized to the region around the suspensory ligament. If an ultrasound and radiographs of the suspensory region are normal, what is the correct course of treatment?

“Traditionally, we may have assumed there was a soft tissue injury that wasn’t visible yet and treated the horse very conservatively,” notes Judy. But an MRI of the region could detect bone contusions or fairly significant suspensory ligament lesions—problems that require vastly different treatments.

“By investing in the advanced imaging technique, an accurate diagnosis is made, and the appropriate treatment is applied over the correct amount of time, maximizing the results for the patient and owner.”

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