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  • Writer's pictureDr Michael Porter DVM

Severe Navicular Disease in a Horse

A 10 year-old thoroughbred gelding presented to PHD veterinary services for the complaint of intermittent forelimb lameness. The gelding was purchased several months following a prepurchase exam performed by a local veterinarian. The buyer opted for NO radiographs at the time of the prepurchase considering that the horse was sound. Unfortunately, within several months after purchase, the gelding developed a lameness in the right front foot which was intermittent. The client contacted  PHD veterinary services for foot radiographs and a lameness exam. The lameness exam noted NO lameness in the forelimbs but rather a mild to moderate lameness in both hind limbs after flexing the upper limbs (hocks/stifles). The gelding was not positive to hoof testers in either forelimb. A radiographic exam was elected to document the palmar angle and sole thickness in both front feet. The image in Figure 1 is a lateral image of the right front foot and Figure 2 is a lateral image of the left front foot. The yellow arrows are highlighting the navicular bone of each foot.

Figure 1: Normal equine navicular bone

Figure 2: Equine navicular degeneration

Interestingly, the lateral image of the suspect foot (right front) appeared normal however the lateral radiograph of the left front foot was highly abnormal. The navicular bone of the left front foot was flattened and completely sclerotic when compared to the navicular bone of the right front.foot. Additional views of the navicular bone are imaged in Figures 3 and 4.  In Figure 3, the skyline projection of the navicular bone suggests severe deterioration of the bone and what appears to be a chronic fracture of the navicular bone (yellow arrow). The flexor surface of the navicular bone is very irregular.

Figure 3: Advanced degeneration of the equine navicular bone

In Figure 4, the distal border of the navicular bone is imaged. The yellow dotted line outlines the navicular bone and the yellow arrows are pointing to the many dark circles which are consistent with areas of lysis and/or cyst formation. The findings in Figures 3 and 4 are consistent with SEVERE degeneration and likely chronic fracture of the navicular bone. 

Figure 4: Advanced degeneration of navicular bone

These findings are NOT consistent with the physical exam findings of a sound horse or the history unless this horse has had the nerves, which provide innervation to the foot, surgically transected (nerved). At the time of the exam, the gelding did demonstrate sensation to the skin along the heel bulbs however there were small scars consistent with a previous surgery over the neuro-vascular bundles. Considering how normal the right front navicular bone appears, the degeneration of the left front navicular bone is most likely due to a septic process from a penetrating foreign body that resulted in infection of the navicular bone or a traumatic fracture. Regardless of the cause, these radiographic findings are suffice to retire this horse from forced exercise and hope that he remains comfortable for an extended period of time. This case represents another example of the benefit of simple foot radiographs as part of all prepurchase exam.

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