Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock. Email us at [email protected] if you have a question for a veterinarian.
QUESTION: What's the outlook for a foal with contracted tendons – can they make it to auction as weanlings or yearlings?
DR. SCOTT MORRISON: Contracted tendons in foals are not an uncommon condition. Many severe contractures present as a dystocia or difficult births as the fetus cannot assume the necessary posture to pass through the birth canal.
Congenital deformities like contracted tendons are most effectively treated within the first couple days of life. The older the foal gets the more difficult it is to completely resolve the condition. This is because the tendons and supporting structures of the joint become stronger and more mature with age and therefore more resistant to manipulation.
The condition can affect one or more limbs. For some reason the left hind is the most commonly affected limb (45 percent of the time).
The severity of the congenital contractures can range from mild – such as a merely upright lower limb conformation, a slightly over at the knee condition, or heels that are lifted off the ground slightly – to severe contractures where the foal is unable to stand. Mild contractures may improve with bandaging, oxytetracycline, limited exercise and time.
Severe contractures, where there is an inability to brace the fetlock back or the individual is walking on the front of the hoof wall, most likely need corrective splinting to correct. If more than one limb is severely contracted the foal will be unable to stand without assistance. The prognosis for severe contractures may be guarded.
With proper splinting, the prognosis for making it to a sale as a weanling or yearling can be extremely good. The use of intravenous oxytetracycline may help relax the flexor muscle to aid in resolving the contracture.
The most effective splinting technique is done by making a custom splint with fiberglass casting material which runs down the back of the bandaged limb. The casting material is secured to the limb and allowed to set while forcing the limb into extension; a new splint is made every day until the contracture is resolved. The average case takes three days.
Neonates with congenital contractures generally have a good prognosis when treated appropriately.
From 2010-17 we did a study in which we treated 102 foals with contracted tendons, with most treated within the first 3 days of age. Of the 102 foals treated, the contracture was resolved in all cases, and the condition did not prevent any of them from making a sale or go on to training.
Dr. Scott Morrison is a graduate of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and the Eastern School of Farriery. A partner at Rood and Riddle, Morrison oversees the Rood and Riddle Podiatry Center and travels around the world to lecture on equine podiatry.
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