Ask six veterinarians what causes developmental orthopedic disorders in foals and you might get six different answers. According to Tina Kemper, DVM, there could very well be six causes, and possibly more. Kemper specializes in equine internal medicine and recently shared her knowledge, research, and experiences during the bi-annual meeting of the San Diego-based Piedra Foundation.

The Piedra Foundation is a non-profit humanitarian group that provides veterinary services to horse owners who are financially unable to provide veterinary care in life-threatening situations. The foundation is also dedicated to improving equine health through continuing education and research.

“When we talk about development disorders in young horses, we are basically talking about orthopedic diseases,” Kemper told an audience of 150 horse owners and veterinarians. “A lot more horses suffer from developmental orthopedic disease than most people realize.”

Kemper said the incidence of developmental orthopedic disorders (DOD) in horses ranges anywhere from 10% to 50%, depending on whose research you accept. The opinion of whether developmental disorders are preventable will again depend on whose research you accept.

Developmental diseases are non-infectious and range from angular deformities in foals that might be remedied by age to crippling cervical vertebral malformations (also known as wobblers). Although there can be any of a number of reasons, or combination of reasons, why a horse develops orthopedic disease, the results are generally the same.

Often there is an error or alteration in endochondral ossification–a disruption in the physiological process that initiates the development of cartilage into bone. The most common developmental diseases found in foals today are: osteochondrosis (OCD), physitis, cervical vertebral malformation, angular limb deformities, flexural limb deformities, and club feet. Cli