Navicular Disease In Horse Explained!

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Griselda M.

If your horse has lameness problems, your veterinarian may want to carry out diagnostic tests for navicular disease in horse, but what does this mean? Let’s find out all about this painful condition in horses!

Navicular Disease In Horses Symptoms

The navicular disease occurs when the navicular bone within the hoof capsule starts to degenerate. This bone is very small but carries out a crucial role in the movement of the horse. One of the main tendons in the horse’s leg, the deep digital flexor tendon, attaches onto the navicular bone.

This means that the navicular bone is under constant strain, and is very susceptible to wear and tear. When this occurs, navicular disease in horse develops. This condition is painful for the horse and causes a very specific range of symptoms.

Navicular disease in a horse normally occurs in both hooves of the forelegs, although one may be worse than the other. A horse with the navicular disease will have something called bilateral forelimb lameness, which means he is lame in both front legs.

The problem with this is that the horse may not limp, as both feet are causing him pain! However, he may be reluctant to move and take shorter strides than normal.

One classic symptom of navicular disease in horses is that they are lame when turning on a circle. Your veterinarian may ask to see your horse being lunged or loose schooled in a round pen to assess the level of lameness.

This condition is more prevalent in certain horse breeds, such as Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. Horses with long, sloping pasterns are also at a higher risk of contracting the navicular disease.

Navicular Disease In Horses Diagnosis

Navicular Disease In Horse Explained!

The first thing your veterinarian will do is carry out a full clinical assessment of your horse. They will want to see your horse walking and trotting in straight lines and on a circle. They may also perform flexion tests, where a limb is held in a flexed position for around a minute to see if it exacerbates the lameness.

If the clinical exam shows that the horse is likely to have navicular disease, further diagnostic tests will be carried out.

Your veterinarian may decide to do nerve blocks, where a local anaesthetic is used to numb the nerves of the hoof. If the lameness is improved or disappears altogether after a nerve block, this confirms that the hoof area is the source of the pain.

Radiographs may be taken to assess the status of the navicular bone. This will show if there are any degenerative changes or areas of concern. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to assess the level of damage to the soft tissues surrounding the navicular bone.

Navicular Disease In Horses Treatment

If your horse is diagnosed with navicular disease, there are several treatment options available. However, it is important to remember that this is a life-long condition. The damage to the navicular bone cannot be repaired, but there are many ways to make the horse more comfortable and prevent further damage from occurring.

The first of these is to review the farriery care of the horse. The farrier and veterinarian will work together, reviewing the radiographs and carrying out corrective trimming of the hoof. The aim is to reshape and rebalance the hooves, to relieve the pressure on the navicular bone.

Your veterinarian may also advise that your farrier puts remedial shoes on your horse. Again, the aim of these is to reduce pressure on the navicular bone, making your horse more comfortable. The most common type of shoe used for navicular disease in horse is a rolled egg-bar shoe, with raised heel wedges if the heels have collapsed.

As well as remedial farriery, there are some medications available to ease the discomfort of navicular disease. In the short term, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to relieve the horse from pain and reduce inflammation.

Some horses with navicular disease will benefit from medication of the coffin joint with steroids, but others will show no improvement at all. Some veterinarians also advise long-term treatment with isoxsuprine and aspirin to improve the blood supply to the navicular bone.

Your veterinarian will advise you on the best exercise regime for a horse with navicular disease. It is important to avoid riding on hard or rough ground, and to only do as much as your horse is comfortable with. High-impact activities, such as jumping and roping, can be very painful for horses with navicular disease.


navicular disease in horses treatment

So, as we have learned, navicular disease in horse is a degenerative condition that causes lameness due to pain in the hoof capsule. This is a life-long disorder, but can be managed with the correct shoeing and other treatments. Some breeds of horse are more prone to navicular disease than others.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on navicular disease in horse – have you ever cared for a horse with this painful condition? Or perhaps you’ve seen a new treatment for navicular disease that seemed to work? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!

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What Is Navicular Disease In A Horse?

Navicular disease is a condition that affects the navicular bone of a horse. This is a tiny bone located within the hoof capsule, between the distal phalanx and the deep digital flexor tendon.
When a horse has navicular disease, this small but very important bony starts to degenerate. The tissues around the navicular bone may also become inflamed. This leads to lameness of the horse, as a result of the pain within the hoof.

How Long Does It Take To Develop Degenerative Navicular Disease In A Horse?

Navicular disease is a degenerative condition; this means it develops over a period of time due to wear and tear of the delicate structures of the hoof. It is very rare to diagnose navicular disease in a young horses, and most horses develop this condition when they are between 8 and 10 years old.
However, this age will vary depending on many factors. Some horses are more predisposed to navicular disease because of their conformation, whilst others will develop it because of poor hoof care or rough riding conditions.