Types of crooked legs in foals

Generally, leg deformities in foals have a good outcome if you start treatment early. If you leave moderate to severe cases untreated, crippling problems will occur as the foal matures. Pain associated with crippling problems make these horse unrideable.

X-ray of a foal's growth plate
X-ray of a foal with leg deformities due to trauma in the growth plate. The bone length is different below the growth plate (yellow lines).

Tendon laxity

Tendon laxity refers to a disorder that causes weak flexor tendons. It’s common in newborn foals, especially premature foals. This condition usually fixes itself with controlled exercise. Controlled exercise includes stretching the muscle-tendon unit, which can include:

  • Trimming the feet

  • Bandaging to promote relaxation

  • Oxytetracycline to relax the muscle

A small bandage can help the limb if it’s hitting the ground. Avoid using a heavy support bandage in this case as it will worsen the condition.

Ligamentous laxity

Ligamentous laxity refers to a disorder that causes loose ligaments. It’s common in newborns but is often self-limiting. You can manually straighten the legs, but weight bearing can cause crookedness.

Controlled exercise will strengthen the ligaments and keep the legs in better alignment.

Tendon contracture

Tendon contracture refers to a disorder that causes the tendons to be really tight. It can include the following conditions:

  • Club feet

  • Fetlock contracture

  • Carpal contracture

These conditions are a relative difference between tendon length and leg length. Always check foals born with contracture for undershot jaws. This would likely mean there was a problem with the mare iodine levels.

Usually, these conditions occur from premature birth or damage to the growth plate.

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Immature cuboidal bones

Immature cuboidal bones refers to a disorder where the foal’s bones aren’t solid at birth. It’s a dangerous deformity in premature foals. Thus, weight can cause the bones to deform.

Foals must remain lying down or given splints or casts for standing to maintain the bones’ normal shape. The bones will solidify over time. As a result, prognosis is good if the bones don’t deform. If the bones deform, the condition is hard to correct.  

Foals with signs of prematurity should have hock and carpal x-rays taken to make sure this isn’t a problem. Swelling or trauma to the growth plate can make one side of the leg grow faster than the other. In foals, the most common version leads to legs that turn out at the front knee.

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 Erin Malone, DVM

Reviewed in 2018

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