Everything You Need to Know About Caudal Heel Syndrome in Horses

Posted on
June 17, 2021
A light brown horse with a small white diamond in between the ears stares over a white fence.
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Caudal heel syndrome, sometimes called navicular syndrome, used to be a scary diagnosis for horses and their owners. The issue occurs when the hoof is not trimmed properly. Now there are more advanced treatments for this problem, giving horse owners better ways to treat a once tricky problem. 

These advancements in treatment include better imaging technology, which can make diagnosing and treatment more accurate. With these advancements, caudal heel syndrome does not have to mean a career ending diagnosis. 

Learn more about caudal heel syndrome as we discuss the following:

  • What causes caudal heel syndrome and its symptoms
  • How to diagnose and treat caudal heel syndrome
  • FAQ about caudal heel syndrome
A young light brown horse with a large white area that reaches between the eyes down to the nose eats some grass in a field.
Be sure to keep up with hoof trimming in order to avoid this problem.

What Causes Caudal Heel Syndrome and its Symptoms

Caudal heel syndrome happens when the heel of a horse's hoof is too far forward. This is often due to poor or a lack of trimming the hooves. When the hoof is not trimmed properly, it can become uneven and the horse's weight is then unevenly distributed

This uneven distribution can lead to lameness, which is why horse owners are so nervous when it comes to caudal heel syndrome. 

The following are potential causes of caudal heel syndrome.

Trimming

When trimming, it is important to trim the whole hoof and not just the toe, which can sometimes be the main focus. When only the toe is trimmed, the heel grows underneath the foot, causing problems. 

Heels can get too long when left untrimmed. When this happens it begins to grow under the foot, affecting how weight is beared. When the weight is unevenly distributed, horses land on their feet in a way that is not safe for them or their hooves.

Heels and Toes

When heels are too far forward, they become pinched and contracted. This makes all the weight shift to the toes, which in turn can cause ligament problems.
Make sure to pay attention to how your horse walks and trots. If they are only landing on the toes, it can mean their heels are sore, indicating a problem like caudal heel syndrome.

A larger brown horse with a harness touches noses with a smaller brown horse.
Treatment for caudal heel syndrome has gotten a lot better in recent years, providing horses with a chance to continue their career. 

How to Diagnose and Treat Caudal Heel Syndrome

Once, caudal heel syndrome was a career ending diagnosis. Now with better technology this is not necessarily the case. 

The best way to diagnose and begin treatment for this is through magnetic imaging resonance (MRI).

An MRI can provide a more informed diagnosis with a more accurate treatment plan. It is also beneficial because MRIs provide both tissue and bone imaging in a single session.

Due to the fact that bone and soft tissue can be seen in these MRIs, treatment has become better as well. In the past, horses that were found to have soft tissue issues rather than bone issues were considered “poor responders” to treatment. This is because the treatment they were given was made for horses suffering from injuries in the bone rather than the tissue. With this technology, the soft tissue injuries now have their own specific treatment.

Another benefit of this method is that it does not require anesthesia

A study done in 2012 used 79 horses with forelimb lameness because of their chronic hoof pain. They each underwent a low-field MRI in order to make a diagnosis.

The results showed that of the 79 horses, 74 of them, or 94%, had lameness in the foot. Of the 79, 78% of the injury was in the navicular bone, where caudal hoof syndrome comes from. 

When looking for a treatment option consider these questions:

How often are the hooves being trimmed? Are there areas that are overgrown, like the heel? How is the horse standing? Is there even distribution throughout the hoof?

All these questions can provide you a solution. If their heel is overgrown, make sure to discuss with your fairer or veterinarian so that next time the hooves are trimmed, the heel is included in the process. In doing this, weight can be more evenly distributed and the problem will begin to cease.

Some treatment options include different shoeing techniques, injections, pour in pads, and surgery.

Shoeing techniques can help level out the weight distribution, pour in pads do this as well by providing a more level landing pad for your horse. Surgery helps see tears in soft tissue as well as any adhesions that need to be removed. 

When your horse is recovering from this, make sure to limit riding and exercise. This will allow them time to heel without putting unnecessary pressure on their injured and painful hooves.

A young black horse is galloping through a green field.
You have questions, we have answers. Here are some common questions regarding caudal heel syndrome.

FAQ About Caudal Heel Syndrome

Can caudal heel syndrome happen to any horse?

This can happen to any horse, regardless of size or breed.

Should I contact a vet about my horse's caudal heel syndrome?

Yes, vets will be able to tell you whether or not they believe the horse has caudal heel syndrome and also provide diagnosing and treatment options.

Is caudal heel syndrome always hard to treat and care for?

No, many horses just need more attentive care towards their hooves like shoeing changes. Some will need injections and a few are the really tricky cases. This is why it is best to get a vet’s opinion before jumping to the worst conclusion.

A white horse with a black harness is laying on a grassy area near some trees and bushes.
Always make sure to note any behavior changes in your horse. This can help stop issues from getting much worse by catching it early. 

As always, getting the opinion of a veterinarian is very important. Every horse is unique and will require a care plan just for them. Doing this will allow you to find the best treatment option for you and your horse. 
If you are curious to learn more about navicular problems in horses, you can find additional information here.

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Posted on
June 17, 2021
in
Advice
category

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