This week I offered my cat services during an inferior check ligament desmotomy so I told the Doctors I would write my blog on club feet, especially in foals.
Club feet are probably the most common lower limb deformity we see. Identifying a club foot early and initiating treatment is crucial for your horse’s long term health.
Let’s start with a definition of club foot. A club foot is, technically speaking, a contracture of the deep digital flexor tendon leading to a flexoral deformity of the distal interphalangeal joint. In English that means the tendon that runs up the back of the leg is too tight, causing the hoof to be too upright. Club feet are not the same as contracted tendons in foals. This occurs when the deep and/or superficial digital flexor tendon is too tight. These often respond to bandaging, splints, relaxation treatment with oxytetracycline and stall rest. Some of these foals will go on to have a club foot but most will be perfectly normal after a few days to weeks of treatment.
Club feet are most effectively treated in foals. Dr. Lacher and Dr. King will examine your foal during your initial vaccine visit to determine if this could be an issue. Here I will talk about what they look for and some treatment options. The foot will initially exhibit a bulge at the coronary band, and the heels will have a contracted appearance to them. In addition, the hoof wall fails to expand when it comes in contact with the ground, resulting in the loss of flexibility in the soft tissue surrounding the coffin joint. The hoof wall at the toe develops a dished appearance and the tip of the coffin bone is more prone to injury.
There are varying degrees of severity and the best course of treatment will depend on the individual involved. Early forms of this condition might require frequent trimming programs for the hooves in order to lower the heels and protect the toe so it does not excessively wear down. In long-standing cases of club feet, surgery might be required if the horse is lame. Surgery will address the needs of the foot as well and aid in lowering the heels. Application of a composite material to the toe will aid in protecting the hoof from further digression.
The diagnosis of a club foot is not necessarily a “death sentence,” which is what many people are conditioned to think. There are several well-known horses with club feet which have gone on to very successful athletic careers. When a horse is diagnosed as having a club foot, immediate and aggressive treatment should be used. This immediate care might allow you to stop the condition before it develops into a severe case. Early detection of a club foot also is key to the successful treatment of the problem; the earlier it’s detected, the earlier aggressive treatment can begin and the better the odds are that the horse will go on to a successful athletic career.
If you are concerned about your horse’s foot conformation don’t hesitate to call Springhill Equine for an evaluation!