Club feet in foals

  • Club foot refers to a tendon flaw that causes the hoof to be very upright.

  • Often, club foot affects both front legs with one being more severe than the other.

  • Club foot can occur before or after birth in foals.

    • After birth foals acquire club feet when the bones grow faster than the tendons.

  • Treatment varies with the age of the horse and severity of the case.

  • Early treatment results in the best prognosis.

What is club foot?

Lower leg and hoof anatomy
Lower leg and hoof anatomy of a normal horse.

Club foot refers to a limb flaw, where the hoof is very upright with a long heel. This is the most common tendon flaw in foals. The deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) is much shorter than the bones. Thus, it pulls on and rotates the coffin bone downward in the hoof.

In general, club foot most commonly occurs in the front legs. Usually, club foot affects both front legs with one being more severe than the other.

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Causes

Club foot can occur prior to or after birth. Cases that occur after birth are often from the bone growing faster than the tendon. Foals are more prone to club foot when:

  • They nurse from a heavily lactating mare

  • They have the genetic tendency to grow quickly

  • Their caretakers over supplement them with concentrates (proteins, carbohydrates, minerals or vitamins)

Treatment

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Foals with mild to moderate club feet with proper care have good outcomes. Early treatment leads to a better prognosis. Young horses treated before 6 months of age, have greatly higher success rates.

In severe cases, the prognosis remains guarded. Horses that don't respond to treatment tend to have more coffin joint pain and hoof flaws due to the upright hoof conformation.

Jose Mendez, DVM, adjunct assistant professor, College of Veterinary Medicine

Reviewed in 2018

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