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Case Study: Flexural Limb Deformity in a Neonatal Foal


contracted tendons in foals

While most foals are born healthy and with no issues, some require specialist veterinary intervention. This case study shows how our vets treated a neonatal foal with a flexural limb deformity, which is sometimes referred to as “contracted tendons”. 


An Unexpected Arrival

Whilst a mare will often show signs that she is about to foal, this is not always the case. It is not that uncommon for an owner to be met with a newborn foal when they go to check on the mare, and that is what happened in this particular case. 

We were called out to a mare who had foaled unexpectedly in the field overnight. The owner found the mare and foal in the field enjoying some summer sunshine. However, it became apparent that the foal was knuckling over on its hind fetlocks, making it difficult to stand whilst nursing.


A Diagnosis of Flexural Limb Deformity

Our vets arrived to find the foal had flexural limb deformity of both hindlimbs, and was standing on the front surface of its fetlocks. A clinical examination of the foal was carried out, including a blood sample for serum amyloid A (an early marker of infection) and IgG (antibodies to ensure the foal has had enough colostrum).


Treatment of the Flexural Limb Deformity

The foal was then sedated with diazepam and an intravenous catheter was placed to allow for an oxytetracycline infusion to be given. Oxytetracycline enables relaxation of the deep and superficial digital flexor muscles. A large dose is given in a bag of fluids, to protect the foal’s kidneys. 

Splints were then applied to both hindlimbs and changed a few times a day, and the foal’s farrier lowered the heels slightly to encourage the foal to use the foot correctly. Foals with flexural limb deformities can become quite sore, which can perpetuate the problem by causing muscle spasm, so the foal was also given non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.

One week later, there was an enormous improvement in the deformity, and the foal was able to walk normally. 

Early intervention is important for a quick resolution. This is just one of the many reasons why it is important to closely monitor pregnant mares and foals. Things can go wrong, and a vigilant owner and early veterinary intervention are key to minimising risks.


What is Flexural Limb Deformity, or “Contracted Tendons”?

Flexural limb deformity is often colloquially referred to as “contracted tendons”. However this isn’t quite correct, as it is the muscle aspect that causes the deformity, rather than the fibrous tendon.

The condition can either be congenital, or acquired, but in foals of this age, it is usually due to positioning in-utero applying pressure to the limb. If treated early, flexural limb deformity will usually resolve with medical management alone. Some foals require x-rays to check that there are no bony abnormalities present.


Avonvale Equine Vet Practice | Experienced and Qualified Stud Vets

Breeding horses can be a complicated and sometimes challenging process, so our equine vets are here to help. From the initial conversations about how and whether to put your mare in foal, to care of the newborn foal, you will have a trusted, dedicated and experienced stud vet on-hand.

Avonvale Equine Vet Practice offers a range of equine reproduction services, including artificial insemination (AI). Whether you are a performance horse breeder or just want a foal from your mare, our experienced stud vets can help you. We work with horse breeders of all sizes, from thoroughbred stud farms to individual horse owners.

Call us on 01295 670 501 if you have any questions or would like to speak to an experienced stud vet.


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