By: Dr. Lydia Gray
Club foot is defined as a flexural deformity of the coffin joint and is a common problem in young, growing horses. Characteristics of a club foot are a prominent or bulging coronary band, a very upright hoof wall angle, a heel that doesn't touch the ground, a dish in the hoof wall at the toe, growth rings wider at the heel than the toe, and other abnormal hoof growth. While foals can be born with a club foot (congenital), most develop between the ages of two and six months (acquired), during the time of most rapid growth. Therefore club foot is part of a group of conditions known as developmental orthopedic disease or DOD. One theory is that the long bones of the leg grow faster than the soft tissues at the back of the leg, so these muscles and tendons become "contracted," pulling on the coffin bone in the foot where they attach
Early detection and treatment are key to stopping the condition from progressing and for increasing the chances of a successful athletic career. Conservative treatment includes a strict combination of controlled exercise and rest, therapeutic trimming and shoeing, oxytetracyline to temporarily relax the soft tissues, prescription and natural anti-inflammatories to relieve pain as the tissues stretch, and physical therapy (gentle, manual straightening of the limb). When conservative treatment is not enough, surgery may be necessary to release the tendon on the back of the leg.
Genetics, nutrition, exercise and lameness in a leg are all factors that can contribute to a club foot. Foals and weanlings should be observed regularly and carefully for any sign that a club foot is developing and steps taken immediately to remedy the situation. However, purely cosmetic trimming to make the club foot look like the normal foot may do more harm than good. Veterinarians and farriers should work together to diagnose the cause, grade the severity with the use of X-rays, and develop an appropriate treatment plan that addresses the internal structures of the hoof.
About Dr. Lydia Gray