Musculoskeletal: physical examination - foal

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  • Overall appreciation of the foal's conformation for symmetry, abnormal swellings, or stance may give clues to the location of a source of pain    , cause of lameness or site of pathology, or help to assess the clinical significance, or progress of correction, of developmental orthopedic disease.
  • Close observation of individual structures by visual assessment and palpation will add to localizing information prior to manipulative and other diagnostic steps.
  • For other age groups see : - Foal evaluation neonate    , adult    .
  • Immature components of the musculoskeletal system and immune system of young animals place the foal at high risk of injury or infectious causes of lameness.
  • Early recognition of abnormalities is imperative so that prompt treatment can be initiated and long-term prognosis improved.
  • Infectious causes of lameness are common in foals, especially <4 months of age, and can be very serious it is prudent to assume that all causes of lameness in the young foal are infectious in origin until proven otherwise    .
  • Boisterous activity coupled with hazardous environment increases the risk of traumatic injury to a foal: kicks, collisions and over-exertion injuries are common.
  • The growth plates of immature bones, especially the long bones, are weak and vulnerable to injury, eg fractures (Salter-Harris types I-VI).
  • Developmental orthopedic disease is common in weanlings and yearlings and includes: flexural deformity    , angular limb deformities (varus/valgus)    , osteochondrosis    (several limbs may be affected concurrently), physeal dysplasia (physitis)    , cervical vertebral malformation    .



  • Non-invasive opportunity to examine foal at rest.
  • Minimal stress to animal.


  • Provides general information only. 
  • Possibly incidental findings of no clinical significance. 
  • Requires reasonably relaxed animal to permit objective evaluation of response to palpation. 
  • Wide range of 'normal' conformation     and response to manipulation.
  • Manipulation of fracture sites may exacerbate soft tissue injury, even convert closed fracture     to compound (open).


Materials required

Minimum equipment

  • Farriery: tools - hoof testerFig.1 Farriery: tools - hoof tester
    Hoof testers   (Fig. 1)  . 
  • Farriery: tools - hoof knifeFig.2 Farriery: tools - hoof knife
    Hoof knife   (Fig. 2)  .
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