Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Fetlock Sagging Low, Hyper-Extending (in Adult)

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If you notice worsening of the sign.
  • If there seems to be pain, swelling or lameness.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
  • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.

Anatomically, the fetlock joint is not really the horse’s ankle at all. It is the metacarpo-phalangeal joint of the forelimb – the equivalent of your middle (upper) knuckle joint. (The hind limb fetlock is the equivalent of the middle metatarso-phalangeal joint at the front of your foot.)

The fetlock is an extremely dynamic and sensitive joint – a very high-motion, critical component of the intricate mechanism of the lower limb of the horse.

Abnormal sagging of the fetlock indicates weakness or loss of function of the suspensory apparatus of the hind limb. The most commonly implicated tendon associated with subtle dropping of the fetlock is the suspensory ligament. Cutting of the flexor tendons and suspensory ligament causes collapse of the fetlock to the ground.

There is a great range of normal conformation in horses. Certain breeds and individuals drop more in the fetlocks than others. Older horses commonly have sagging fetlocks, especially older brood mares that have had numerous foals. In younger horses and in Peruvian Paso horses, abnormally sagging fetlocks can be indicative of a connective tissue disease called Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease (DSLD).

WHAT TO DO

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the fetlocks – degree of sagging, swelling and pain to raising and flexing the limb. Look for increasing lameness, inability to stand with a hind limb raised (resistance to the farrier), and increasing difficulty moving. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

If you feel your horse’s performance is suffering, the condition is worsening, or the horse is lame, rest the horse until your vet performs an evaluation.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet can rule out DSLD as a diagnosis, and may recommend additional diagnostics to identify the cause.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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