Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Limb appears Obviously Fractured or Broken

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

    A horse with a major fracture of the limb cannot bear any weight on it. Sometimes the limb is floppy or seems excessively loose side to side, having lost all of its skeletal support. In some cases, this occurs with compound fractures in the lower limb, where the bone penetrates through the skin. Fractured bones can make crunching sounds as they rub against each other (crepitus) if the limb is manipulated.

    Regardless of the cause, horses that cannot bear weight on a limb are usually in great distress. However, just because a horse is not bearing weight on a limb does not mean they have a fracture. Severe non-weight bearing lameness may also be caused by a sole abscess, a severe hoof bruise, an infected joint, bursa or tendon sheath, ruptured ligaments, nail puncture or joint luxations (dislocations), among others.


    Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to rectal temperature, heart rate and the presence of swelling in a limb, hair loss or wounds on the limb. If there is a question of whether or not the horse can bear weight, then try to walk them forward a step, but do not force them if they resist.

    Look at the limb to see if it is deviated abnormally but keep in mind that appearance can be misleading. Gently raise the limb forward, and move it side to side. Does this cause a pain response? Contact your vet immediately with your findings and concerns.


    Vets use their knowledge of anatomy and function of the limb to determine the nature of the injury. They may use nerve blocks, radiographs or ultrasound in their exam. Once a specific diagnosis is known, treatment options and prognosis can be discussed. Some fractures have a reasonable prognosis, while others are very difficult and expensive to treat. In severe cases, euthanasia will be a reasonable option.

    POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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