About one-third of all front limb lameness is the result of navicular disease. While not technically a disease in a strict sense, the term refers to a wide array of conditions that affect the navicular bone in the hoof. This bone is very small and located behind the short pastern bone. It functions as a small pulley or fulcrum for the deep digital flexor tendon in the hoof. The impar ligament, as well as suspensory ligaments, also connect this small structure to its surroundings. Most often found in quarter horses, thoroughbreds and warmbloods, here are some warning signs and treatment options for navicular disease:
Since navicular disease is a collection of conditions rather than a single disease, there are a number of warning signs that may indicate that your horse is suffering. The first is chronic front limb lameness, though by this stage you will most likely have noticed other symptoms such as a toe-forward gait associated with caudal heel pain. The best way to identify if the horse is walking toe-to-heel rather than the normal heel-to-toe is to videotape its gait and then play the footage in slow motion.
Imaging technology is the most common way of diagnosing navicular disease. MRIs and x-rays provide vets a look inside the hoof to determine if there has been any extensive damage to the navicular bone or the surrounding structures. Another method commonly employed by veterinarians is to manipulate certain parts of the horse’s anatomy in an effort to make the lameness worse. To test the navicular bone, vets will likely perform a wedge test or frog pressure test. While these tests are not 100 percent indicative of navicular disease, they are a good indication that further radiographs of the area are necessary.
If a navicular disease diagnosis is made, the next step is to determine proper treatment. Therapeutic shoeing and medication can realign hoof balance as well as relieve pain in horses suffering from this condition. Any hoof conformations should be the first thing that vet and owner address. From there, anti-inflammatory medication will address some of the circulation issues that accompany navicular disease. In extreme cases, surgery may be recommended to sever the nerve in the foot eliminating the lameness. However, this nerve has been shown to regenerate and therefore the surgery will have to be repeated regularly.
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