Tuesdays with Tony
Boy oh boy, or maybe I should say girl oh girl… Nope that’s not it either. Foal oh foal, that’s it! I swear it’s been raining foals at the clinic. We’ve had at least one foal a week in and out of the clinic, and that doesn’t count the ones that are just here with their dam while the dam is getting re-bred. It also doesn’t include the ones we have seen on the farm. It’s been foal madness. And we love foals! They remind me of my kitten days when I was full of life, bouncing around all the time, causing trouble for everyone. Gosh, those were the good old days. Foals, as you all know, are usually feisty little boogers with the energy we all wish we had. However, as always with horses, foals have their own set of problems that can end up in life-long issues and may even be life threatening if not addressed quickly.
Angular Limb Deformity
Angular Limb Deformity (ALD) in foals is a relatively common problem that occurs within the first few months after birth. ALD causes a foal’s leg or legs to deviate from midline. They may angle in or out, or in some cases, both in and out. Most frequently affected joints are the carpus (knee), fetlock, and hock joints.
ALD is most commonly caused by incomplete ossification of the cuboidal bones of these joints. This means the small bones that make up the joints have not developed completely prior to birth. Incomplete ossification can be caused by placentitis, colic, metabolic disease, and/or premature birth. Similarly, after birth, if a foal has tendon and/or ligament laxity, they are prone to developing ALD.
I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of fancy performance horses with crooked legs, and trust me, so have I. However, it’s important to address ALD in a foal while the opportunity exists. There’s a small window of time that ALD can be addressed and potentially fixed, resulting in “normal” limb conformation. This is extremely important because any deviation from “normal” conformation can result in a lifetime of joint pain and arthritis, starting at a very young age.
Mild ALD can be managed early on with bandaging, corrective shoeing, exercise, or in some cases, restricted exercise. Each case is different, and your veterinarian will definitely want to assess the foal and take radiographs to determine the best course of action. If conservative treatment is not effective, it’s possible that surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgery is not without risk, and it’s essential that you, your veterinarian, and your farrier are all working together on your foal. Really, that 3-way team should exist for every horse all the time, but that’s a different blog.
Once ALD has been diagnosed and treatment started, frequent check-ups from your veterinarian will be imperative. It can be a long, tiring, expensive road, but it’s worth it to end up with an as close to “normal” foal as possible.
Wry nose, what a funny term! What the heck is a wry nose? Basically, wry nose is the most extreme deviated septum you’ve ever seen, and multiply that times about a million, and then put it on a horse’s face. Horses are born with wry nose; it’s not something that develops over time, or shows up later in life. It’s a rare condition, and the cause of wry nose is unknown.
Cases of wry nose can be mild to severe. Mild cases in foals typically do okay, but may struggle to nurse, and occasionally these can grow out of it. Severe cases risk the inability to nurse at all, difficulty breathing (these can both be fatal), and failure to thrive. It’s recommended that foals be examined within the first 24 hours after birth. During this examination the veterinarian will be able to establish if a foal has a wry nose and what the best course of action will be to fix it. They will also be able to ensure the foal is nursing well and received appropriate colostrum after birth.
If you want to read more about wry nose, and see some crazy cool pictures and radiographs of the malformed bone structures, check out this paper.
When your veterinarian comes out to examine your new foal, they’ll stick their fingers in the foal’s mouth. This is important, as it allows your veterinarian to recognize any abnormalities with the foal’s mouth. Occasionally a foal will develop a cleft lip or cleft palate during embryonic development. It’s necessary for your veterinarian to find this as it can cause difficulty nursing.
A cleft palate is dangerous in foals, as it allows for an open passage from the mouth to the nostrils which puts the foal at risk of inhaling milk as it nurses. Inhaled milk will result in aspiration pneumonia which is life threatening to the foal. Mild cases of cleft palate and lip can be managed with surgical correction, but severe cases do not do well with or without surgery and humane euthanasia should be considered.
Cases of parrot mouth and sow mouth are seen more frequently in ponies and miniature horses than in regular horses. That being said, both parrot mouth and sow mouth can and do occur in horses of all breeds and sizes. A horse with a parrot mouth has a lower jaw that is shorter than the upper jaw and is known as brachygnathia. Correction can be attempted when the foal is young. Whether the abnormality is corrected or not, a horse with parrot mouth will absolutely require regular dental care by your veterinarian.
Similarly, a horse with sow mouth will need frequent dental assessments and treatments by your veterinarian throughout its entire life. Sow mouth, or prognathia, is an undershot jaw. This is commonly seen in dwarf miniature horses and Arabians. It can lead to severe dental problems if left unaddressed. Foals can have difficulty nursing, and as horses get older they can have difficulty grazing. However, with appropriate supportive care, foals with either parrot mouth or sow mouth can go on to live very normal healthy lives.
If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that foals are delicate little flowers and require immediate attention if anything appears to be abnormal. Skeletal abnormalities such as we have discussed just barely scrapes the surface of problems that foals can have or develop. Here is my friendly reminder to always have a good relationship with your veterinarian, and rely on them for directions on what is best for your mare and foal.
Until next week,
P.S. Now that you’ve absorbed my cat wisdoms for this week, take a minute to poke around the rest of my website. Aside from my amazing blog, there’s a lot of other really useful stuff on here. Videos, the podcast, books, our Wellness Plans, all kinds of good stuff. This is my gift to you.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!