Managing Equine Navicular Syndrome

Are there times I shouldn’t work my young horse recently diagnosed with navicular syndrome?

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Managing Equine Navicular Syndrome
Many horses with navicular syndrome can be used and maintained in athletic training for many years after their initial diagnosis. | Photo: Thinkstock

Q: I have a 5-year-old old Irish Sport Horse mare, and she has recently been diagnosed with navicular syndrome. I know this is a young age to develop this condition, and I was wondering what is the best way to take care of her and try to prevent things from getting worse? My veterinarian suggested getting her special shoes and having her toe rolled, which I did. She is now sound, but I was wondering what work can or can’t she do? Are there any times I shouldn’t work her, or what other recommendations do you have? —Fiona Carty, via email

A: Navicular syndrome is a catch-all term for a variety of different types of injury to the back of the foot (e.g., caudal heel pain or foot pain). Veterinarians diagnose most navicular syndrome cases based on a lameness exam with hoof testers, diagnostic nerve blocks (anesthetizing the heel and sole of the foot), and then radiographs (X rays) of the foot and navicular region. Sometimes the radiographs show changes to the navicular bone and sometimes they do not. The ultimate method in confirming navicular syndrome diagnosis remains MRI.

Veterinarians generally approach navicular syndrome/caudal heel pain treatment in a stepwise fashion. The initial step is decreasing inflammation within the foot using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as phenylbutazone (Bute) or firocoxib (Equioxx). This is followed by making shoeing recommendations. In your case, your vet has prescribed a particular shoe with emphasis on providing a rolled toe. The reason for the rolled toe is to provide an early breakover point for the foot. By doing so, the stress on the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) decreases and, thus, the stress and/or inflammation on the navicular bone and surrounding region decrease as well. This is a very important part of treating horses with navicular syndrome

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Written by:

Chris Bell, BSc, DVM, MVSc, Dipl. ACVS, is with the Elders Equine Veterinary Service in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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