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Ask Dr. Dave

Traci from Louisiana, writes:

Dear Dr. Dave,

I have a weanling that looks like she has osselets. She kept coming up sore in a shoulder after slipping and falling. I weaned her and confined her to a stall for 60 days. After I turned her out for a week, she started to look like she had osselets. What should I do?

Dear Traci,

Thanks for asking about weanlings and osselets as this is an important question for anyone wanting to raise their own equine athletes.

If you ask the same question to 10 equine experts, I imagine you'd get 10 different answers, but as how you've asked me, you're about to get mine! First, however, some questions from me.

In months, how old is your weanling? What breed is she? What bloodlines does she carry? Is the filly's mom underweight, normal, or overweight? Did she produce a lot of milk, normal amount, or not enough? How old was the filly when you first saw she was sore? How to you know she was sore in her shoulder? Could she have been sore in her feet or fetlocks and just appeared to be sore in her shoulder? How old was she when she was weaned? What is her diet now that she's been weaned? After her 60 day confinement, is she still lame, or is she now acting normal?

Whew! Sorry about all those questions, but it's all important information. Next time your veterinarian comes out and appears to "be just standing around," appreciate the fact that he/she is taking in all this information, fully evaluating the situation, and providing suggestions and solutions.

OK, back to your filly. Due to limited information, I am having to assume some things. It would be my best guess that the slipping and falling did not injure her shoulder, at least no more than temporarily, however it may have precipitated her "osselets."

Now about the "osselets." Fortunately, she doesn't have "osselets." She is way too young for them. So you don't have to worry about osselets. I suspect that what you are seeing is an enlargement in the cannon bone just above the true fetlock joint, making it look like osselets if it was in an older horse. Technically, it is a form of epiphysitis in the distal third metacarpal.

Whoa! Hold on! Back up! (Ever think how confusing we must sound to our horse?) What's this all mean?

Similar to the growth plates evaluated in the knee of a pre two year-old, there are growth plates in the lower ends of the cannon bones. These growth plates usually "close" between 6-10 months of age. Prior to closing, they frequently enlarge giving the fetlock an osselet-like appearance. I consider this normal and expect the swelling to be gone by 8-10 months of age.

Now, what can give us problems is that during the "swelling stage" the growth plates are highly susceptible to trauma and incorrect nutrition. Trauma can arise from something as simple as running around on hard ground (you know, jetting across the pen with their tails up like they feel so good they can't stand themselves)! Trauma can also be caused by less-then-ideal limb conformation placing unequal distribution of weight on the growth plates.

Incorrect nutrition can cause problems: either very, very poor quality of feed (highly unlikely in your case,) or from over-feeding of rich, growth-promoting, high protein, high fat supplements with an incorrect calcium:phosphorus ratio. I typically see the over-feeding in the big, fast growing foals and owners wanting to give them the best possible start.

If over-feeding is the cause, I recommend you have your veterinarian evaluate the diet. I usually will have the owner back off the supplements in an attempt to temporarily slow the growth rate, provide exercise on soft ground, and wait it out with a dose of patience.

I hope this information has been helpful and you will be able to formulate a good management plan for your aspiring barrel racing champion.

Please contact me if you have any additional questions.

Dr. Dave