Limb Deformities: Congenital or Acquired?

As the foal takes his initial stance, a proud owner takes stock to see how straight and strong the youngster’s legs are. Many foals are born with seemingly crooked legs (congenital). Most of these crooked legs straighten by the time the foal is a couple of weeks or months old. Some limb deformities develop after birth, as the foal grows (acquired). In determining what specific veterinary

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As the foal takes his initial stance, a proud owner takes stock to see how straight and strong the youngster's legs are. Many foals are born with seemingly crooked legs (congenital). Most of these crooked legs straighten by the time the foal is a couple of weeks or months old. Some limb deformities develop after birth, as the foal grows (acquired). In determining what specific veterinary intervention is necessary, it is helpful to determine whether a crooked leg problem is congenital or acquired. Let's take a look at some of the ways in which a foal's legs can deviate from normal, and what can be done to restore potential for the foal to grow into a conformationally correct equine athlete.

Angular Limb Deformities

An angular limb deformity (ALD) creates a crooked leg when viewed from the front or back. A common problem is a knock-kneed foal–a condition known as carpus valgus. In this case, the foal's knees (carpi) are too close together and one or both of the lower front limbs are splayed out. This outward deviation of the legs can also occur in the hocks; then it is called tarsus valgus.

One main concern when examining the foal for carpus or tarsus valgus is to be sure that the bones of the knee and hock joints are formed completely rather than suffering from incomplete ossification (incomplete hardening of cartilage into bone). If the bones of the joints are incompletely formed before birth, then the joints cannot hold up to the weight or movement of the foal. Potentially, there is a collapse of the joint spaces, which leads to a crooked leg. An ideal means of evaluating the condition of these bones in the joints is by radiographic examination

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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