Neurologic or Lame: How to Tell the Difference in Horses

Your horse moves uneasily under saddle and your mind begins to race – could it be a stone bruise or is it something more sinister? In this article, we outline the difference between neurologic disorders and lameness in horses.  The difficulty with neurologic and lameness is they can both begin with unsteadiness in the gaits. However, neurologic disorders are also often characterised by unusual behaviours and odd postures, which can make a neurologic horse dangerous to themselves and others. Lameness  One of the most common complaints of horse owners, lameness is noticed as an abnormal stance or gait. There are many causes of lameness, such as hoof abscesses, heel pain, navicular syndrome, degenerative joint disease or injury, and it can range from subtle to severe.  A structural or functional disorder of the locomotor system, lameness is a clinical sign, not a disease. Lameness may, in fact, be one of the first signs that your horse has a neurologic disorder – i.e. neurologic lameness. Neurologic Disorders From mild lameness, a neurologic horse may begin to present with more obvious clinical signs, such as staggering, incoordination (ataxia) or muscular weakness. Ataxia is very concerning as the horse may lose their balance, stumble or actually fall down. A neurologic horse may become mentally sluggish or hyper-reactive to stimuli. Abnormal postures, particularly how the horse holds their neck or tail, may also indicate neurologic problems, along with difficulty seeing, chewing or swallowing. Diagnosis  Horse owners should contact a veterinarian as soon as they notice clinical signs that could indicate a neurologic problem. Your veterinarian can perform both lameness and neurologic examinations that will help to arrive at a diagnosis. To determine the presence of a neurologic disorder, your veterinarian will test your horse’s proprioception, strength, stability and coordination. These physical tests may be combined with radiographs, MRI or CAT scans. 

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How to Determine if Your Horse is Lame

In high intensity horse sports, like campdrafting, eventing and reining, your performance horse is at risk of injury. Learning to correctly identify the source of lameness early can prevent a minor injury from developing into a lengthy recovery.  There are several common signs that indicate lameness, including head bobbing, hip hiking or dropping, and toe dragging when the affected limb hits the ground. A shortened stride can also suggest pain in the hoof or limb.  When diagnosing lameness in your horse, enlist the help of your veterinarian. They will help you pinpoint the exact source and severity of the lameness, and develop a suitable treatment plan to bring your horse back into work safely. Step 1: Look for Injury With the assistance of your veterinarian, stand your horse squarely on even ground and visually examine each leg for lumps, bumps, swelling, wounds, discharge or other signs of external injury. Then, clean and examine each hoof – checking for excess heat and the strength of your horse’s digital pulse. Look for nails, cracks and bruises, and palpate each hoof for sensitive areas with hoof testers. Step 2: Trot Up In a straight line, trot your horse towards and away from your veterinarian while they look for signs of resistance, shortened or uneven stride. Be sure to keep the lead loose so you don’t inhibit any other signs, such as a head bob when the affected limb hits the ground. Step 3: Flexion Tests Flex limbs one at a time for approximately 50 seconds and then trot out in a straight line.  This puts “load” on the limb to mimic strenuous exercise.  This determines if the lameness is worse after work or consistent during or after work. Step 4: Lunge Your Horse The final exercise is to lunge your horse in both directions. Start with a wide circle, then gradually tighten the circle. Usually, the tighter the circle, the more obvious the lameness. With a highly trained eye, your veterinarian will be able to pick up on subtle signs that you may not see.

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Horse Health: The Spring Health Check

As the seasons change from Winter to Spring, it’s an ideal time to review your horse’s health with your veterinarian. With Spring comes a more active riding and competition schedule, and an assessment of your horse will help to maximise their performance. Our veterinarians are an excellent resource for advice on all aspects of horse management, including preventative medicine, nutrition, body condition, behavioural problems and hoof care. Use Spring to treat your whole horse to gain the most out of the warmer months.  Health Care  Before the busy season begins, a physical examination by your veterinarian will give your horse the best start to an increasing workload. Not only will your vet be able to identify any issues that may affect your horse, but you can also discuss nutritional and training strategies. Vaccination and parasite control are central to your horse’s health. The threat of parasites and biting insects increases as the weather warms, so the start of Spring is the perfect time to protect your horse with vaccinations, de-worming and a faecal egg count. Hoof Care Spring brings many challenges to your horse’s hooves, particularly if they’re kept in soggy or muddy conditions for prolonged periods of time. Thrush and hoof abscesses are common in the wet. A consultation with your vet will aid treatment and prevention. If your horse is encountering any hoof problems in hand or under saddle that relate to shoeing or trimming, it’s important that you resolve these issues well ahead of travel and competitions. Your veterinarian will be able to offer advice on the hoof care solution your horse needs. Nutrition Finally, adequate nutrition and pasture management play a massive role in your horse’s health, energy and immunity. The transition from Winter to Spring can leave your horse susceptible to acute and chronic conditions, like colic or laminitis, if diet changes aren’t managed correctly. Likewise, incorrect feed storage, resulting in contamination by vermin or mouldy hay, can have devastating consequences for your horse. Seek advice from your veterinarian about your horse’s nutritive requirements and safe storage practices on your property.

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5 Tips for Managing the Laminitic Horse in Spring

If you own a horse susceptible to grass-induced laminitis, Spring can make you feel increasingly nervous. However, with knowledge and support, you can provide your laminitic horse with the level of care they need to live comfortably.  Tip 1: Book a Vet Consultation A thorough health check by your veterinarian is highly recommended for the laminitic horse, especially to prevent the symptoms of laminitis recurring this season. With the support of your vet, be sure to check: Your horse’s health and set steps to improve their overall health if needed Your horse’s weight and insulin levels, and set goals to reduce these if they’re too high Your horse’s vaccination and de-worming program to ensure they’re fully protected  Tip 2: Assess Your Horse’s Diet  Careful diet management is crucial to the health of the laminitic horse. A high-fibre, low-carbohydrate diet, comprised mostly of hay, will support your horse’s caloric needs, without overloading on sugar. Tip 3: Manage Turnout Time Pasture, especially during Spring, can pose a high health risk to laminitic horses. Depending on the severity of your horse’s condition, closely monitored turnout during the night or early morning when fructan levels are lowest may be acceptable. Tip 4: Provide Supportive Hoof Care Laminitic horses have unique needs when it comes to hoof care. Shoeing should be avoided for as long as possible in Spring, except where corrective shoeing is required. Trimming should be done by a competent farrier with prior laminitis experience. Tip 5: Support Your Horse’s Wellbeing All horses thrive on freedom of movement, access to pasture and interaction with other horses. Provide your horse with unlimited access to water and hay containing less than 10% sugar, and utilise grazing muzzles or a dirt path system to encourage happy, healthy behaviour.

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The Risks of Spring Grass Growth

As a horse owner, it is important to be aware of the risks that come with spring grass growth. Horses love to graze and spring is the season when the grass is at its most nutritious, but it can also be the most dangerous. There are several risks that horse owners need to be aware of during this time of year. One of the biggest risks is laminitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening condition that affects the horse’s hooves. This is caused by an excess of sugar in the grass, which can lead to an overload of insulin in the horse’s system. Other risks include colic, which can be caused by a sudden change in diet, and weight gain, which can lead to obesity and other health problems. It is important for horse owners to be vigilant during the spring months and to take steps to protect their horses from these risks. This may include limiting grazing time, using a grazing muzzle, or providing alternative sources of food. By being aware of the risks and taking appropriate action, horse owners can help to ensure the health and well-being of their beloved animals. The Risks of Spring Grass Growth to Horses Problem 1: Digestive Issues I have observed that spring grass growth can be a risk to horses due to the high sugar content. This can cause digestive issues such as colic, diarrhea, and bloating. Horses that are sensitive to sugar should be monitored closely during this time. problem 2: Laminitis I have also noticed that spring grass growth can increase the risk of laminitis in horses. Laminitis is a painful condition that affects the hooves and can lead to lameness. Horses that are prone to laminitis should be kept off pasture during this time or have limited access. Problem 3: Weight Gain and Obesity Spring grass growth can also lead to weight gain and obesity in horses. This can put extra strain on their joints and increase the risk of other health issues. Horses that are prone to weight gain should have limited access to pasture and be fed a balanced diet. Weight gain also goes hand-in-hand with problem 2. Problem 4: Nutrient Imbalances Spring grass growth can cause nutrient imbalances in horses, particularly in terms of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. This can affect their overall health and well-being. Horses should have access to a balanced diet and be monitored for any signs of nutrient deficiencies. Problem 5: Behavioral Changes Finally, I have observed that spring grass growth can cause behavioral changes in horses. They may become more excitable or difficult to handle. It is important to be aware of these changes and take appropriate measures to keep both the horse and handler safe. Overall, it is important to monitor horses closely during the spring grass growth period and take appropriate measures to mitigate any risks. This may include limiting pasture access, monitoring their diet, and being aware of any behavioral changes.

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