Limited Mobility in Horses

Key takeaways

Limited mobility (LM) in horses is defined as a reduction in agility and/or movement, and is a condition that mainly affects senior and geriatric horses (over 18 years of age).

  • Signs of limited mobility include difficulty rising, discomfort with the farrier, and reduced range of motion in the limb joints
  • Limited mobility is a non-specific symptom, and is generally associated with orthopedic conditions due to old age
  • The most common cause of LM in horses is osteoarthritis
  • Diagnostics are focused on identification of the underlying condition, and include physical examination and diagnostic imaging
  • Treatment is aimed at treating the underlying cause, as well as managing pain and other symptoms
  • While the prognosis is good for reducing the severity of symptoms, there is no definitive cure for most related underlying causes
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A closer look: Limited Mobility in Horses

Symptoms of LM range in severity from mild stiffness that disappears with movement, to severe and debilitating lameness. Signs of limited mobility include:

  • Decreased joint movement and flexibility
  • Popping, cracking, or grating sounds when the joint is flexed
  • Reduced movement in turnout
  • Difficulty rising from lying down
  • Discomfort during farriery, including trimming or shoeing

Risk factors

Limited mobility generally affects geriatric horses and is a chronic condition that progresses over time. LM is not an emergency, but prompt medical care is highly advised as it is the best way to improve the animal's quality of life.

Younger horses can suffer from limited mobility, generally as a result of repetitive injury to a joint. Other risk factors for limited mobility include improper trimming or shoeing and genetic predisposition.

Possible causes

Limited mobility is a non-specific symptom that occurs as a consequence of a number of underlying conditions (generally linked to the animal's advancing age).

Osteoarthritis, for which there is no cure, is a progressive degenerative condition that causes the degradation of articular cartilage.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis is focused on identifying the underlying condition causing LM.

Diagnostics tools include:

  • Physical examination, including a lameness examination
  • Diagnostic imaging: x-rays; CT; MRI; ultrasound
  • Thermography

Most causes of limited mobility in horses have no cure. Treatment is of a supportive nature with the main goal of reducing pain and inflammation. Common treatment options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Joint supporting medications such as glycosaminoglycans
  • Joint injections

Horses with LM may need special management during trimming or shoeing to keep them comfortable. Strategies include lifting the foot for only short periods, adjusting trimming schedules, and allotting more time for trims. Some horses also benefit from additional pain medication before farriery, under veterinary guidance.

Similar symptoms

LM can be mistaken for sudden lameness, which presents as a sudden onset of change in the animal’s gait and is generally a response to pain in the limbs. Horses with moderate to severe lameness may be unwilling to move around or flex their limbs due to pain. These horses do not have limited mobility, and require immediate veterinary attention.

In contrast, limited mobility is progressive and degenerative, with symptoms developing over time.

Associated symptoms

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