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Ringbone In Horses

Ringbone develops in older horses as a bony growth surrounding the pastern of one or both forelimbs. There are various forms and severity of ringbone.

Where the bony reaction does not involve the joint, it is termed 'periarticular' ringbone, and if a joint is involved, it becomes a form of degenerative arthritis ('articular' ringbone).

Ringbone can develop in or around the upper pastern joint (high ringbone) or the coffin joint area (low ringbone).

What causes ringbone?   Top
Long term concussion, hard work, nutritional imbalances, and inherited poor conformation (upright pasterns or weak collateral ligaments of the pastern joints), encourage the development of ringbone in older horses.

In some cases, wire injuries around the pastern joint will result in a bony reaction and cause a ringbone-type swelling, usually without lameness, unless the joint is involved.

What are the symptoms of ringbone?   Top
If the ringbone is due to bony changes associated with collateral ligament tearing (periarticular ringbone), the horse will not usually be lame, but an enlargement on the sides of the pastern joints may be visible.

Horses with articular ringbone or acute periarticular ringbone around the joint, develop a shortened stride and bobbing lameness at all gaits, particularly when turning. In the active stage, heat and swelling around the joint(s) may be present.

In both forms of chronic ringbone, a bony lump becomes visible around the joint, and usually reduces flexion and mobility in the pastern or coffin joint.

Lameness is aggravated by hard work, and sometimes following diagnostic flexion tests carried out by a veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis of ringbone. X-rays, and in early cases, joint blocks are essential to determine the site and significance of the bony changes.

What is the treatment and management of ringbone?   Top
Early Cases
In acute periarticular ringbone, cold therapy with ice packs overwrapped with elastic tape (e.g. Vetrap) twice daily for 20-30 minutes for 2-3 days, or 10 minutes of cold hosing as frequently as possible, may help reduce swelling and pain. A 2-3 week course of anti-inflammatories as precribed by your vet, combined with bed rest, will help relieve pain and limit the bony proliferation.

Where the horse is lame, and early articular ringbone changes are present, then treatment with a low dose of long-acting corticosteroid into the joint, or other preparation to assist joint surface repair, may be recommended by your vet. Radiation therapy is also useful to limit the bony change. Consult yor vet for advice in both types of early ringbone, especially in a valuable sport or equestrian horse.

Long Term Cases
In chronic cases of both periarticular and articular ringbone, permanent pain relief by cutting the nerve supply to the pastern (neurectomy) or surgical ankylosis (fusion) of the joint is now considered to be the only successful method of treatment. Horses with severe periarticular ringbone have a better chance of returning to an active lifestyle. In older horses with articular ringbone, 2 or 3 doses of phenylbutazone over the 24-36 hours prior to being ridden, may be necessary. Consult your vet for advice.

Application of topical anti-inflammatories as required will help provide relief from mild lameness and enable a horse to be ridden for pleasure, or make old retired horses more comfotable during the winter months.

Article courtesy of Dr John Kohnke from ‘Health Care and problems of Horses, 9th edition’ published by Virbac-Vetsearch.

Dr John Kohnke has over 20 years of experience in the health care and management of horses. He is well known for his ability to give sound, practical and up-to-date advice, which is sought by trainers and horse owners worldwide. As Technical Director of Vetsearch for 20 years, John had an opportunity to pursue research in equine nutrition, parasite control, lameness and respiratory problems.

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