Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Lameness, Severe, Cannot Support Weight on Limb

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

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

    Your horse is very lame. You ask your horse to walk forward. They are reluctant, and hardly touch the toe of their hoof to the ground. Perhaps they hop, without touching that limb to the ground at all.

    Severe non-weight bearing lameness is most often caused by a fracture, sole abscess or severe bruise, or an infection in a joint, bursa or tendon sheath. Less commonly, it is caused by severe tendon or ligament injury. Occasionally, nerve paralysis can appear as severe lameness. In horses recently exercised or ridden, occasionally limb to limb contact can cause severe pain which quickly improves over a few moments, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Generally, horses with this degree of lameness are in great pain and distress.


    Call your vet immediately. You can look for an injury and assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), but do not force the horse to move. Pay particular attention to the rectal temperature and heart rate. Look for swelling and heat in the limb but recognize that it is very hard to compare a non weight bearing limb to the supporting limb. Feel for digital pulse and gently lift the limb to see if this causes a pain withdrawal response. Allow the horse to stand still quietly until your vet arrives. Talk to your vet about whether you should medicate your horse with an anti-inflammatory/pain reliever to relieve pain until they arrive. If you do this, tell your vet exactly what was given (drug, time, amount) because it may change their interpretation of their examination.


    Your vet rules out the common causes of severe lameness. In most cases, injuries that are severe enough to cause this level of lameness will also be evidenced by swelling, heat or other signs. But this is not always the case. In that case, your vet may need to perform nerve blocks in order to define where the pain is coming from.

    Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

    Fracture or Broken Bone, Generally
    Foal or Newborn, Septic or Infected Joint or Tendon Sheath
    Sole, Foot or Hoof Abscess
    Nail or Other Foreign Body Punctures Foot, Sole or Frog
    Infected Joint, Septic Arthritis (in Adult)
    Septic or Infected Flexor Tendon Sheath (in Adult)
    Wound or Laceration into Joint, Tendon Sheath or Bursa
    Navicular Bursa Penetrated by Foreign Body
    Horseshoe Nail "High" or "Hot"
    Lameness, Undiagnosed
    Ligament & Tendon Injuries, Generally
    Sole, Foot, Corn or Heel Bruise
    Fracture of Sesamoid Bones
    Fracture of Pastern Bones
    Fracture of Coffin Bone, Generally
    Stress or Hairline Fractures, Generally
    Nerve Paralysis, Traumatic
    Laminitis, Acute
    Wounds to Heel &/or Pastern, Heel Bulb Area
    Radial Nerve Paralysis
    Pigeon Fever
    Fracture of Limb, Open or Compound
    Deep Digital Flexor Tendon Rupture
    Fracture of Carpal Bone Chip & Slab
    Cruciate Ligament Injury
    Laminitis, Support-Limb
    Breakdown Injury, Traumatic Disruption of Suspensory Apparatus
    Calcaneal Fracture
    Flexor Tendon Injury, Tendinitis, Bowed Tendon
    Wound or Laceration involving Lower Limb Flexor Tendon
    Carbohydrate or Grain Overload
    Fracture of Cannon Bone, Condylar
    Deep Digital Flexor Tendinitis in Hoof
    Fracture of Navicular Bone
    Peroneus Tertius Rupture
    Collateral Ligament Injury or Rupture, Generally
    Fracture of Cannon Bone, Complete
    Fracture of Radius or Tibia
    Fracture of Scapula or Point of Shoulder
    Fracture of Femur & 3rd Trochanter Fracture
    Lameness, Conditions Causing, Generally
    Suspensory Ligament Branch Injury
    Fracture of Humerus
    Joint Capsulitis, Synovitis, Tenosynovitis
    Dislocated Hip, Coxo-Femoral Luxation
    Fracture of Hip, Pelvis
    Fracture of Humerus
    Gastrocnemius Rupture
    Strain or Injury Distal Ligaments Proximal Sesamoid
    Aorto-Iliac Thrombosis
    Idiopathic Bog, Joint Fluid Accumulation Top Joint of Hock
    Laminitis, Chronic
    Salmonella Colitis (in Growing Foal or Adult)
    Fracture of Patella
    Pastern Arthritis, High Ringbone
    Fracture of Splint Bone
    Fracture of Extensor Process P3
    Eastern, Western & Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis
    West Nile Virus, WNV
    Fluoroquinolone Induced Tendinopathy
    Luxated Patella

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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