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Figuring Out Limb Fractures in Horses

Figuring Out Limb Fractures in Horses
With treatment advancements, many horses with fractures either return to partial or complete athletic function or can be used as breeding stock. Learn about the types of fractures and how veterinarians handle them in this article excerpt from our September 2019 issue now.
 
Type of fracture, diagnosis, and treatment dictate a horse’s chances of recovery
Finding a horse unable to bear weight on a limb can be a nightmare. And when your veterinarian says the word fracture, you might immediately anticipate the worst-case scenario: euthanasia. But don’t jump to conclusions.
 
With all the advancements in modern veterinary medicine, fractures are no longer death sentences for horses. Veterinarians can repair and rehab many limb fractures, and the horse might even be able to return to work.
 
Dean Richardson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, head of surgery at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, says the biggest horse owner misconception is that you can’t treat a fracture.
 
“You need to get every case evaluated separately,” says Richardson. “Just because somebody has experience with a fracture that couldn’t be repaired doesn’t mean that the one you’re looking at can’t be repaired. Some of them have a terrible prognosis, and some have an excellent prognosis. Also, not every fracture in the horse needs surgery.”
 
Let’s look at types of limb fractures and how to handle them.
 
Fracture Diagnosis
The first thing to understand about fractures is that they encompass a wide range of bone injuries, from small chips to large fragments called slab fractures. Common types include:
  • Simple Only one crack in the bone.
  • Comminuted Splintered or having many pieces of separated bone.
  • Incomplete A fracture on only one side of the bone.
  • Complete A full break that results in separated bone fragments.
  • Displaced When bone fragments have moved out of their original position.
  • Stress Small, incomplete fractures.
  • Star Multiple cracks radiating from a central area.
  • Articular A fracture involving a joint.
  • Closed Without a wound.
  • Open With a wound.
A fracture can produce localized heat, pain, and swelling—either alone or in combination with lameness. These are typically the first clinical signs you’ll notice, especially if you did not see the injury occur.
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