Q. A friend of mine has a new stallion, and his first crop of foals was just born. When they were born, all seemed fine. As they have been brought in to be weaned, we have started to notice that the foals all have the worst-shaped feet we have ever seen. They are all walking on their tiptoes, and their feet are very upright. One foal has been put down, as it could not walk properly. Will all of the foals that this stallion produces have similar problems?

Hayley, via e-mail

A. The condition you describe is commonly known as "club feet." It is properly referred to as a flexural limb deformity of the coffin joint. It is an acquired condition that usually happens between the ages of one and six months. It is recognized by a characteristic "boxy" shape to the foot with excessively long heels and worn toes, and often the anterior hoof wall acquires a dished appearance. This appearance is due to tension by the deep digital flexor tendon on the coffin bone, causing it to rotate back, resulting in weight-bearing mainly on the toe.

The underlying problem occurs through an imbalance in length of bone to the musculotendinous unit. It is thought that during the periods of rapid bone growth in the lower limb, where tendon lengthening might be disproportionately slow, it causes excess tension of the flexor tendons on the coffin bone.

Flexural limb deformities are part of a group of conditions known as developmental orthopedic diseases. Genetic predisposition to rapid growth is a major contributing factor. Overfeeding and nutritional imbalances are also in-volved.

Management of the problem is initially approached with trimming away excess heel to promote stretching of the deep flexor tendon and protecting the toe from excess wear with acrylic glue. Careful evaluation of the foal's nutrition program is essential, and feed restriction and/or early weaning is often required. Controlled exercise is also considered beneficial once the foot is properly trimmed. Anti-inflammatories should be considered, as the process of stretching the flexor tendon is painful.

If conservative treatment is not effective, the veterinarian and horse owner should consider surgical intervention. The common correction is tenotomy, the surgical cutting of the check ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon, which releases the tension on the tendon and subsequently the coffin bone, allowing the foot to resume its normal shape. This procedure carries a good prognosis for athletic soundness.

Foals of this stallion might be predisposed to the same condition, and horse owners should carefully monitor them so that their veterinarian can initiate conservative treatment early. Nutrition should be carefully balanced for these foals, and they might require greater feed restrictions than other foals. The owner or caretaker should encourage controlled exercise to promote stretching of flexor tendons. This condition carries a good prognosis if caught early, and the veterinarian and horse owner can often manage it conservatively.

About the Author

Thomas C. Bohanon, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS

Thomas C. Bohanon, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, accepted a position as equine surgeon at Glenwood Veterinary Clinic in 2003, after he and his family spent a five years abroad on a 46 foot catamaran, visiting Turkey, Italy, and New Zealand. Dr. Bohanon became a full partner at GVC in 2005. Dr. Bohanon’s professional interests center around lameness evaluation and all types of equine surgery. He has published multiple papers in refereed journals and spoken locally, nationally, and internationally on these interests and his research. More information about Dr. Bohanon can be found at www.glenwoodvet.com.

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