How to Care for Lame Horses: 10 Steps (with Pictures)

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How to Care for Lame Horses: 10 Steps (with Pictures)
How to Care for Lame Horses: 10 Steps (with Pictures)

When a horse starts to limp, it becomes a cause for concern for the owner, and knowing how to treat this condition can have a positive impact on the speed and success of the animal's recovery. From physiotherapy to possible medical treatments, this article considers the different aspects of the treatment of lameness in horses.


Method 1 of 2: Reducing Inflammation

Treat Lameness in Horses Step 1

Step 1. Allow the horse to get plenty of rest

For many horses, rest is the mainstay of lameness treatment. The nature of the lameness will determine how much rest he needs; for simple sprains, a few days of rest may help, but in cases of more serious injuries, weeks or months of rest may be necessary.

  • Rest prevents the animal from forcing the injury site, which would cause more inflammation. Continuing to exercise a lame horse can cause more physical damage, such as the lining of the cartilage inflamed by a microplatelet junction, which would cause permanent damage.
  • Also, exercising a lame horse causes it to release more prostaglandins, which will further aggravate the inflammation. Putting the animal to rest is an attempt to break this vicious circle.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 2

Step 2. Bathe the animal's leg in cold water daily for 20 minutes

This is a simple hydrotherapy technique, employed to reduce swelling in a limb, and involves pouring cold water with a garden hose onto the horse's leg. The principle is: Cold water removes the heat associated with swelling, while the flow of water massages tissue and helps disperse fluid buildup.

  • Preferably, the water temperature should be very cold. The advantage of using the hose is that the water temperature remains constant (like an ice pack). A 20-minute session is ideal; it is enough time to disperse the heat without compromising the blood circulation of the limb.
  • It is a good idea to spread petroleum jelly or grease on the horse's heel before using the hose. This prevents the heel tissue from becoming softened by the constant flow of water, which could predispose the heel to cracking and infection.
  • Unless your horse is very polite, this is a two-person job. One to use the hose and one to steady the animal. Depending on the nature of the injury, your veterinarian will advise you on the duration of this treatment.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 3

Step 3. Try hot baths to treat a lameness in the lower limb

This option is used when the cause of lameness is a suspected hoof abscess or foreign body, as the hot water softens the tissues and helps to remove the infection. This involves placing the animal's foot in a bucket of water with epson salts, at a temperature of 38°C, to soften the sole of the foot and allow the infection to drain.

  • Clean the hull before placing it in clean water. If necessary, use a small pickaxe to clean the sole and wash the hoof before bathing. In order to prevent the animal's leg from getting stuck, it is a good idea to remove the bucket handle.
  • Fill the bucket with hot water and add the epsom salts. Put the horse's leg in the bucket and leave for 15 to 20 minutes. Change the water in the bucket when it is getting cold. After 20 minutes of soaking, place the hull on a clean towel and dry it thoroughly. This procedure can be repeated 3 to 4 times a day.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 4

Step 4. Use fomentation to treat abscesses and infections in the animal's upper leg

This treatment has an indication similar to that of a hot bath (suspected infections and abscesses), but is used on higher areas of the leg, which are not possible to immerse in a bucket.

  • Soak a clean cloth in hot water with epson salts, and wrap the cloth around the swollen or inflamed part of the leg. Put a second towel in the bucket.
  • When the towel wrapped around the animal is cooling, replace it with the one you put in the bucket. This treatment should be applied for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 5

Step 5. Apply a poultice to reduce post-exercise swelling

Poultices can reduce swelling after exercise and remove infection from an abscess. Traditionally, bran poultices are quite popular, but with the advent of many excellent commercial plasters (such as Animalintex), the need for homemade poultices has diminished.

  • Commercial poultices come with a shiny side and another absorbent pad (applied over the lesion). First, cut your poultice to the desired size so that the injured area is completely covered. It can be used dry (great for reducing swelling) or wet (to treat infections). Both methods are applied in the same way, but when using a wet poultice, it must be immersed in hot water, letting it cool down to a temperature of 37ºC.
  • The poultice is placed over the wound or swelling and held in place with a bandage. Tighten enough to prevent the dressing from sliding down, but not enough to cut off circulation to the limb.
  • You should never leave a poultice for more than 12 hours and it is preferable to change it two or three times a day.

Method 2 of 2: Relieving Pain

Treat Lameness in Horses Step 6

Step 1. Use pain medication to help treat lameness

Relieving the animal's pain helps enormously in the treatment. Modern pain relievers are doubly beneficial, as they relieve pain and inflammation, and belong to the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Its functioning inhibits the action of cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX1 and COX2). It is the COX enzymes that release prostaglandins, which cause pain and inflammation. Blocking the action of these enzymes reduces prostaglandins, which relieves pain.
  • The most commonly used pharmaceuticals in horses are aspirin, phenylbutazone and flunixin.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 7

Step 2. For mild pain, give your horse aspirin

Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is effective against discomfort, swelling, and mild pain. Some aspirin-containing products are available over-the-counter, which makes them a good first treatment option for mild lameness.

  • AniPrin contains powdered acetylsalicylic acid mixed with a flavorful base designed to be blended into the horse's feed. The correct dose is 10 mg/kg once a day.
  • For a 500 kg horse, this equates to 5,000 mg (or 5 grams) of AniPrin. The product comes with two meters: the largest is 28.35 grams, and the smallest is 3.75 grams. Thus, a 500 kg horse should receive a daily dose equivalent to one and a half meter of AniPrin (small meter).
  • Never give aspirin to a horse that is taking other medications without consulting your veterinarian, and always provide the animal with plenty of fresh water.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 8

Step 3. Use phenylbutazone to reduce pain and fever

Commonly known as "bute" among horse owners, phenylbutazone reduces pain and fever. This medication needs to be prescribed by your veterinarian. It should not be used in combination with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids. Nor should it be given to an animal on an empty stomach.

  • Phenylbutazone interacts with some medications (eg, phenytoin, sulfonamides, warfarin, barbiturates, and digoxin), so always talk to your veterinarian before starting treatment.
  • A typical compound for use in horses is Butazolidin. The dose for a 454 kg horse is 2-4 grams once a day, either with food or after the animal has fed. This medicine is available in tablets or a 1 gram oral paste, or in oral powder bags, which contain 10 grams. The manufacturer recommends not to exceed the daily dose of 4G, and to administer the lowest dose effectively possible.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 9

Step 4. Get a prescription for flunixin to reduce pain and inflammation

Flunixin is sold commercially as Banamin.

  • Banamin is a potent cyclooxygenase inhibitor, which inhibits prostaglandin and therefore reduces inflammation. It is quickly absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, and each dose works for 24 to 30 hours.
  • The recommended dose of Banamin is 1.1 mg/kg once daily by mouth. Therefore, a 500 kg horse requires 550 mg (0.5 g), which is equivalent to a sachet.
Treat Lameness in Horses Step 10

Step 5. Be aware of the possible side effects of these medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce blood circulation to the stomach and kidneys. While this is not a problem in healthy, well-hydrated horses (especially when the drug is given with food), these drugs should never be given to dehydrated animals as this could concentrate the drug and amplify its harmful effects on the kidneys.

  • Other side effects include gastric ulceration and possible worsening of pre-existing kidney disease. These can manifest as loss of appetite and increased thirst. Treatment involves stopping the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and administering activated charcoal to protect the stomach lining.
  • A horse diagnosed with kidney disease may need intravenous fluid therapy to eliminate the buildup of toxic substances the kidney has been unable to get rid of.


The two goals of lameness treatment are to control swelling and pain. There is a great deal of overlap between inflammation and pain, and reducing one is controlling the other


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