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Ask Dr. Dave

Sarah from Minnesota, writes:

Dear Dr. Dave,

I have a horse that I just found out about a month ago has navicular. He was doing really good after having his injections. Then I had him shoed with the egg-bar shoes and he could not walk with the egg-bar or regular shoes. Now he isn't getting any better and he keeps limping when he trots. I was wondering what I should try doing to help him get better. He is on isoxuprine also. He is only nine years-old and I would like to make the rest of his life comfortable and pain-free of possible. I appreciate your suggestions!

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your question regarding navicular disease. As you have become aware, navicular disease can be an insidious insult to your horse, and a disease process that can incapacitate a horse from competition. And yet, there can be solutions, depending on the actual condition present.

Historically navicular disease has been a "gut-bucket" of differing diagnoses. Whenever there was un undetermined cause of lameness, navicular disease was to blame. Now, fortunately, the veterinary professionals are more capable of an accurate diagnosis, and the true incidence of navicular disease has lessened.

First some questions: How long have you noticed your horse being lame? What testing was done prior to the diagnosis? Was a complete lameness exam performed, hoof testors used, nerve blocks placed, radiographs taken? Did your veterinarian recommend an MRI for accurate diagnosis?

I ask these questions because frequently navicular disease has been diagnosed by "rule-outs" of other conditions when actually it is not the navicular bone that is involved.

Before condemning the horse, I would make an all-out effort to exactly diagnose the problem. Is there any possibility of a fractured coffin bone? How about a pulled navicular suspensory ligament? A deep sub-solar abscess or bruise can seem to last forever.

With true "navicular" horses, I have had the best success shoeing them as "natural" as possible with ordinary shoes, toes kept short, and plenty of posterior support. Give the horse the benefit of an easy break-over and lots of "hoof on the ground."

Although in concept, egg-bar shoes should help the horse, in my experience I have found that they protect the hoof too much, preventing natural expansion and contraction during load bearing. They also encourage early heel contact during the placement of the hoof upon landing, often increasing the impact to the navicular area of the hoof. You didn't say, however, most farriers use aluminum egg-bar shoes. Keep in mind that aluminum shoes transmit more shock to the hoof than do steel shoes of the same shape.

The jury is out on the beneficial effects of isoxsuprine. It certainly won't do any harm, however I am skeptical if it does any good. There are few oral supplements that treat navicular disease specifically, and yet a good plane of nutrition is critical for any repair process within the body.

Please contact me anytime for additional information, especially if you have more questions.

Dr. Dave