Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Foal Lameness, 1-6 Months Old

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

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

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

  • If the foal is not nursing or seems depressed, in addition to this sign.
  • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.
  • If the foal has a rectal temperature above 102.5 degrees.

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

  • If the foal appears otherwise normal, i.e. is active and nursing normally.
  • If the lameness is mild.

Lameness in young growing foals differs from lameness in newborns and in adults. Unlike newborns, these foals are more likely to suffer traumatic injury, as they tend to interact more with their environment and move at higher speeds. Developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) is common in this age group as well. DOD occurs as a consequence of a combination of genetics, nutrition and management.

As with newborns, joint infection is still a possibility and needs to be considered. In this age group of foals, joint infection is usually caused by seeding of the joint through the blood by an infected umbilicus. A septic joint is an emergency. The prognosis, even with aggressive treatment, worsens by the hour if it is left untreated.

Despite common belief, only on rare occasion is a foal injured (stepped on) by a mare. Generally, it is unwise to attribute a foal’s mysterious lameness to trauma by the mare, unless you actually saw the accident happen.


Assess your foals general health, paying particular attention to their rectal temperature, severity of lameness, and whether there is visible swelling or heat felt anywhere on the lame limb.

Examine the area around the fetlock joints for swelling and pain to pressure. Always lift the limb and inspect the sole of the hoof for a foreign body. Gently feel the umbilicus for heat or swelling. Promptly share your findings and concerns with your vet.


Vets typically do not perform the classic lameness exam on young, unhandled foals, because it can be awkward to use flexion exams and diagnostic anesthesia in foals of this age.

However, there is comparatively less muscle covering the structures of the limb, so it can be easier for vets to find the source of the problem through a physical exam. We are also able to use ultrasound and radiography to penetrate the smaller body and limbs of a foal in order to determine the cause of the lameness.

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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