Making the Best of It

Not all dreams work out the way we hope or plan, but Moon Doggie went from a dream of glory to a fulfilling companion. He is now a 3-year-old appendix Quarter Horse that is a friend to a once lonely performance horse. Moon can run and play with the best of them, even though he does so with an odd gait.

Mike Gotchey, DVM, bred Moon Doggie hoping for a racehorse. His small band of mares and foals had the run of 200 acres in Steamboat Springs, Colo., on the ranch of a close family friend. On frequent evening visits to the ranch, they could watch the horses grazing and take joy in the foals developing their athletic skills. Everyone had their attention diverted when the family friend became seriously ill. The foals grew past weaning time, and Moon Doggie was eight months old when he was brought home to wean.

Straight-legged as a baby, Moon now had fetlock varus (a limb angled inward below the fetlock). He did not show any lameness at that time, but by the time he was a 2-year-old, he was sore. In addition, he grew to 16.3 hands and 1,200 pounds. As the fetlock varus worsened, Moon spent more time lying down. It was evident to Gotchey that Moon was not going to live a full life. Euthanasia was the decision.

In stepped Candy Bunn, Gotchey's veterinary technician. She had a lonely performance horse turned out to pasture by himself. Bunn encouraged Gotchey to try a salvage procedure to turn Moon into a "pasture ornament" and friend for her horse.

Before surgery was attempted, Gotchey needed the advice and consultation of a surgeon. Elizabeth Santschi, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, clinical associate professor and chief of large animal surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was that resource. She looked at the radiographs and helped Gotchey with a surgical plan using the equipment already at hand. The radiographs were measured, and the angle of deviation calculated. A wedge of bone would need to be removed and all cartilage debrided to achieve a joint fusion with the leg in correct alignment.

Bunn set up the needed equipment and studied the surgical plan so she could assist. Moon was anesthetized and rolled into the surgical suite. After the approach through the skin, Gotchey used a bone saw to cut the wedge of bone that would be removed. Radiographs were consulted frequently and the bone "measured twice to cut once." The bone wedge came out more easily than expected, but the joint wouldn't close to the desired degree of straightness. All of the cartilage was debrided, and it was still a struggle to get the leg straight. Finally, a small lip of bone on the back side of the surgical field was found and removed with an osteotome (strong nippers for removing bone). The joint closed at the perfect degree of straightness. A cancellous bone graft was harvested from the pelvis and packed into the surgical site to provide a healthy source of bone cells for healing. Screws were placed in the cannon bone above the joint and the pastern bone below the joint, and the joint was held in place with figure 8 tension wires (much like the transphyseal bridging used to correct the growth plates of crooked limbs in some young horses). A cast was applied using centrally threaded transfixing pins across the cannon bone to add strength and rigidity.

Moon recovered beautifully. He was confined to a stall and sound on the cast in a short time. The fetlock was healed and fused after four cast changes. One hundred twenty days after surgery, he was running and playing with the friend who needed him. Bunn reports, "Moon is a joy. I get comfort watching the horses peacefully living out the back door."

About the Author

Kimberly Peterson, DVM

Kimberly Peterson, DVM, is an AAEP member and assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Technology at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky. Her husband, Eric, is an equine practitioner, and their family lives in Lexington.

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