Disease Du Jour: Angular Limb Deformities

foal lax tendons limb deformity
Soft tissues and joints can be involved in limb deformities in foals. Arnd Bronkhorst Photography

“The biggest thing is managing limb deformities. That’s more important than surgery,” said Liz Santschi, DVM, DACVS.

In episode 99 of the Disease Du Jour podcast, Santschi talks about angular limb deformities in foals.

Santschi reminded her listeners that Nature doesn’t prefer a “perfect” limb. “Nature prefers a functional and ‘straightish’ limb.”

One issue with angular limb deformities in foals today is the size of foals. “Foals are getting larger,” she said. “110 was normal when I started my career, and they are 140 now. That’s more weight than the body can handle. It’s easy for the foal to hurt itself.”

She said owners, managers and veterinarians need to encourage controlled exercise.

Development of Angular Limb Deformities

When you first notice angular limb deformities in foals will depend on their age, said Santschi.

She said veterinarians need to know if soft tissues are also involved (such as a lax collateral ligament). “View the foal overall, standing, ask the owner about concerns, then watch the foal move,” she said. “Watch from behind; hind limbs can have angular limb deformities, too.

“I prefer to watch the foal without a handler,” Santschi said. “I want a natural foot flight.”

Santschi said many foals are examined for angular limb deformities without radiographs. However, radiographs can help determine if there is malformations or damage, especially to the knee bones.

Fetlock Deviations

Santschi said fetlock deviations can be helped with trimming and foot augmentation.

“Most people are concerned about the knees,” she said. “The change there is more apparent. The fetlock is a little harder to see, especially a hind fetlock.”

She said veterinarians need to evaluate fetlocks carefully. “We know so little of angular limb deformities in other joints,” she noted.

Congenital or Acquired

Santschi discussed how foals are born with or acquire angular limb deformities. She also discussed ways to assist foals in becoming more functional in limbs with deformities.

The timeline for making corrections to joints is pretty strict. She talked about timelines for correction of different joints and options for corrections.

Santschi said recognizing issues early is important. If angular limb deformities are caught early, then proper steps can be taken to help the limbs become more functional.

“The first thing is to take a deep breath. There is time,” said Santschi. “It’s the ‘red flag’ defomities that you need to identify. Take radiographs to know where to start.”

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