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Horse Care: Navicular in Horses

Due to their large size and body build, hoof care in horses is incredibly important to their overall health and well-being. Since a horse’s hooves support his entire body, keeping the hoof wall strong and the inside of the hoof healthy are imperative to preventing a lame horse. Sometimes, however, horse care is not enough for problem prevention in your trusty steed’s feet.

What is the navicular in horses?

Navicular disease is just one of the possible ailments that can affect your horse’s hooves. It “refers to the degeneration of the navicular bone, a vital bone in the heel part of the equine foot,” explains Dr. Douglas Thal, DVM, owner of Thal Equine and Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. This small bone in the back of the horse’s hoof allows the deep digital flexor tendon to redirect its force to the attachment with the coffin bone. “Because of the navicular bone vital role in weight bearing, it is not tolerant of injury. Injury or abnormality causes pain and tends to progress over time,” explains Dr. Thal.

What are the symptoms of navicular disease?

“Navicular disease is the term for pain thought to be coming from the bone and includes a variety of specific degenerative changes that the bone undergoes,” Dr. Thal continues. Marked by “chronic forelimb lameness, the presenting complaint [of navicular in horses] may actually just be short-strided, choppy movement, decreasing performance or unwillingness to work.”

The inflammation around the area of discomfort caused by navicular disease in horses may lead to a lame horse. Horse care supplements, such as AniMed Pure MSM Horse Supplement, may help ease the pain and inflammation and can be fed daily to help maintain a horse’s soundness.

Who can develop navicular disease?

While any horse can develop navicular disease, Dr. Thal says that it is most common in American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. Poor conformation may lead to a horse’s predisposition for navicular, however, “In most cases, the cause for navicular in horses is not known. There may be a genetic basis for it, and poor hoof management or shoeing can contribute to its development.”

What are the treatments for navicular in horses?

Like many other degenerative disorders, the prognosis for navicular depends on each individual case and treatment plan. While sometimes the most appropriate course of action is pain management, “there are many aspects and approaches to treatment [for navicular]. Importantly, shoeing and trimming changes are fundamental,” insists Dr. Thal. Working with a veterinarian and farrier to help shift the angle of the horse’s hooves through corrective shoeing may be enough to return a lame horse to soundness. Other times, the use of bisphosphonate drugs may be helpful.

As with any medical horse care concern, early detection and having an honest conversation with your horse care professionals is imperative to finding a solution.