Nip a Bone Spur in the Bud?

Q. I recently bought an expensive 8-year-old hunter-jumper that was radiographed at purchase. He was an excellent junior show horse and is already proven. He vetted sound. However, I sent his X rays to a second vet for interpretation because the horse always pinned his ears over a jump. A small (early) bone spur (a sharp bony projection at the joint margin) was discovered. The veterinarian said it likely would develop ringbone in years.

My question is: can bone spurs be surgically removed, as in osteochondritis dissecans (OCD, a cartilage disorder characterized by large flaps of cartilage or loose cartilaginous bodies within a joint) cases? If not, is there something that can be done?     Thea, via e-mail

A. You raise several important issues. One is the degree of predictability that this radiographic finding ("small, early bone spur") is "likely" to develop "years" later. Perhaps a more realistic interpretation would be to describe its proximity to a joint surface and, based on this, identify it as a possible--rather than probable--future lameness risk factor.

I also assume that the conclusion that a bone spur is present is accurate. Because of the normal curvatures in the upper borders of the pastern and coffin bones, accurate placement of the X ray beam is essential to avoid radiographic artifacts, including the appearance of a "small spur." In this case, this might explain why the first doctor did not report the same finding.

You did not specify whether the spur is at the proximal interphalangeal (pastern) joint or the distal interphalangeal (coffin) joint. While both joints can develop ringbone (a lameness-causing disorder characterized by new bone growth adjacent to the joints), the pastern joint is more accessible to an arthroscopic surgeon. That said, surgical removal of a bone spur from either joint is possible if it can be satisfactorily accessed with arthroscopic instruments.

The fact that your horse is a proven winner over fences and is not lame would certainly make me wary of any surgery at this time. If this bone spur is, indeed, a risk factor for future arthritis, the use of polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (Adequan) under veterinary supervision might slow any articular cartilage degeneration likely to be caused by the spur. Additionally, regular and competent farrier care is essential to avoid unnecessary loading of the front of the digit.

For your peace of mind and in the best interest of your horse's health, I suggest you seek an expert opinion from an equine orthopedic surgeon. If provided with a complete medical and performance history, including the purchase examination report and radiographs, this doctor might be able to offer the best interpretation of your horse's current status, as well as present and future options for treatment and management.

About the Author

Harry Werner, VMD

Harry W. Werner, VMD, is a Connecticut equine practitioner with special interests in lameness, purchase examinations, wellness care, and owner education. Dedicated staff, continuing education and technological advances enable his practice to offer high-quality patient care and client service in a smaller, general equine practice environment. A committed AAEP member since 1979, Dr. Werner is has served as AAEP Vice President and, in 2009, as AAEP President, and he is a past president of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association.

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