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Navicular Disease

Navicular Disease, or Navicular Syndrome, is a complex condition affecting the horse’s foot, in particular the heel.

A horse with navicular disease will have chronic forelimb lameness and pain that comes from the navicular bone (a bone in the foot) and associated structures, such as the soft tissues in the back of the horse’s foot.

How to recognise navicular disease

You may notice the sudden onset of relatively severe lameness in one or both front feet. However, the lameness may be much more gradual in onset. Affected horses may show shortened strides or lameness that shifts from one foot to the other accentuated by hard ground.   

Which horses are affected?

Lameness usually is seen in horses that are 7 to 9 years of age. However, this can vary.

Some breeds tend to be susceptible to navicular disease, probably due to the natural shape of their feet.

How is navicular disease diagnosed?

Your vet will examine your horse's feet closely and may conduct diagnostic tests such as radiographs or nerve blocks with a local anaesthetic, or other tests to try to detect the origin of the lameness. 

How is navicular disease treated? 

Unfortunately, navicular disease is a chronic (long-term) condition so there is no "cure"; however, it can be managed on an ongoing basis.

Successful management is likely to involve a combination of medication and therapeutic trimming and shoeing, so you may need both your vet and your farrier to help with ongoing care.

Medication: The type of medication your vet prescribes may depend on the stage of the disease.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to help alleviate pain, and there are a number of other drugs that might also be prescribed to benefit blood flow to the foot. In some cases, your vet may suggest injecting an anti-inflammatory drug into the joint. 

Foot care: Therapeutic trimming and shoeing are important elements to help maintain the foot, especially the heel area, and protect the heel region of the foot from concussion. 

The foot should be trimmed to maintain heel mass and shorten the toe to facilitate breakover.

Shoes that provide a greater ground contact surface often help, as does elevating the heel with a wedge pad or specific type shoe.   

Surgery: If your horse has responded poorly to other treatments, your vet may suggest surgery, which may involve the nerves or ligaments of the foot.