Is There Life After Bone Spavin?

Bone spavin is a common cause of hind limb lameness in horses.  But what is bone spavin and how can your equine vet help you to manage the condition?  Read on to find out more.

What is bone spavin?

Spavin refers to an osteoarthritic condition of the lower hock joints, affecting one or both legs, and causing lameness of varying degrees of severity.  The horse's hock is made up of three small joints, composing one large one.  A lump or bony tissue (spavin) forms within one of the smaller joints, compromising the movement of the whole joint structure. 

The cause of spavin is not well understood, but it is assumed that poor hock conformation, such as 'cow hocks' or 'sickle hocks,' could play a role.  The forces transmitted through the joints when galloping and jumping can lead to excessive trauma, which in turn could cause the development of this arthritic condition.  Age does not appear to be a predisposing factor in the development of spavins.

In many cases, horses may continue in light work and the problem can go undetected.  This is because, as the joints are kept moving, the horse doesn't stiffen up, and the spavin may harden and become inactive without ever causing a problem.  However, in more severe cases affecting performance horses, spavins can be career-ending.

Diagnosis of bone spavin

In cases of mild or intermittent hind limb lameness, it's always advisable to consult an equine vet for a definitive diagnosis. 

Your vet will confirm that the lameness is emanating from the hock joint and not from elsewhere.  This is usually achieved through the use of nerve blocks (intra-articular anaesthesia) to isolate the exact site of the lameness.  The vet will inject each joint in turn with a small amount of local anaesthetic.  The horse will then be trotted-up.  When the affected joint is numbed by the anaesthesia, the horse will trot-up sound, thus indicating where the problem originates.

Your equine vet may also X-ray your horse's hock to see if there have been any further destructive changes, such as loss of cartilage, which may have been caused by the spavin.   

Management of bone spavin

The prognosis and subsequent management of bone spavins will depend on the severity and position of the spavin.  In mild cases, the horse may be given anti-inflammatory drugs to manage pain.  Light exercise may be appropriate to keep the joint moving as the spavin forms.  Feeding the horse oil-based supplements formulated to address arthritic conditions may also help to keep his joints moving.  In severe cases, surgical intervention may be possible, but your equine vet will advise you further on this.

In conclusion

Early diagnosis of bone spavin is important if the condition is to be successfully managed.  If your horse shows signs of intermittent hind limb lameness, always consult your equine vet.