Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Cast on Foot, Lower Limb or Full Limb

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Fiberglass casts placed on the limbs of horses reduce mobility of the enclosed part of the limb.

Casts are most commonly used to protect and encourage healing of lower limb wounds, but may have application in some laminitis cases, certain lower limb fractures, and some tendon and ligament injuries. They may be also used to help support and protect internal fracture repairs (screws and plates).

Casts are most frequent used for severe and unstable pastern and heel bulb wounds. Casts can allow remarkable healing in a very short time and may provide a much better cosmetic and functional outcome than treatment with bandaging.

Horses don’t tolerate casts as well as other animals do. There is less room for error in terms of fit and positioning of the limb within the cast. The extreme forces generated by a moving horse requires proper fit and sufficient strength of a cast. Most types of casts incorporate the entire hoof in the cast as well.

Casts can be applied in the anesthetized horse, or in some cases can be placed in standing patients. One of the challenges of effective cast placement is preserving the correct angle for weight bearing. Horses tolerate casts much better when the angles are more normal. Preserving these normal angles tends to be easier in the standing horse, but the disadvantage of casting the standing horse is movement before the cast is fully hardened.

After the wound is treated appropriately (i.e. cleaned, debrided, repaired) a dressing is placed over the wound. Stockinette and cast padding and orthopedic felt is placed, followed by cast material.

It is essential that movement of the limb be minimized until the cast has hardened. This depends on many factors but usually takes about 5 minutes. A tough acrylic sole plate is usually placed on equine casts, as horses moving around their stall rapidly wear through the fiberglass of the sole.

Standing cast application may require the horse to stand on a small block that allows cast tape to be wrapped around the hoof. This is an especially difficult procedure to do when casting the hind limb.

Horses in a cast must be kept in a small, clean, dry, bedded 12×12 stall.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Cast sores are a real and potentially serious complication. Improperly applied casts rapidly result in severe discomfort and must be removed rapidly.

A poorly constructed cast may break, causing rapid development of cast sores and failure to protect the injury.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Casts are often not the best alternative for immobilization of the limb for fracture healing. They do not give sufficient immobilization for this purpose. Internal fixation is the standard of care for most equine fractures.

In most cases, casts must immobilize the joint above the area where immobilization is desired. Casts cannot be used for upper limb injuries.

Casts are usually not appropriate for enclosing septic (infected) joints or tendon sheaths. In most cases, those structures need to be accessed and treated frequently.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

Lower limb wound healing often proceeds rapidly under a properly applied cast. Tremendous wound healing can take place in the period of several weeks. In most cases, casts are changed every 2-4 weeks.

It is very important to communicate regularly with your veterinarian while the cast is on. Heat, lameness or any other signs of discomfort should be promptly addressed.

Questions To Ask My Vet

  • Will casting improve wound healing for this particular lower limb wound?
  • Is my horse a good candidate for this type of treatment?
  • What should I look for as a sign of complications?
  • How will I know if my horse is developing a cast sore?

Helpful terms & topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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