Contracted Tendons in Horses

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 3, 2011

Flexural Deformity in Horses

Contracted tendons refer to a condition that is seen in very young foals. This is a condition that is present at birth and is an autosomal recessive genetic trait. It is one of the most common musculoskeletal problems seen in foals and can vary in severity from very mild to severe enough to prevent the foal from standing and nursing. Treatment and prognosis depend on the level of severity of this condition.

Symptoms and Types

This is a congenital condition, appearing at birth. Those affected will be unable to bear full weight on the affected limb. The most common joints affected are the fetlocks and carpal joints, usually in the front legs. One or more joints may be affected and more than one leg can be affected. The joint will appear tightly flexed and the foal will be unable to straighten it.


This condition is due to an autosomal recessive trait, meaning that it is genetic, but is not sex-linked. Position of the fetus in utero may also contribute to this condition.


Although this condition is visibly obvious, it is still important for the affected foal to be seen by an experienced equine veterinarian. X-ray images will show a detailed picture of the exact nature of the deformity, allowing your veterinarian to determine if other musculoskeletal problems are present.


Treatment will vary depending on how badly contracted the legs are. In mild cases, the action of the foal walking will help loosen the tendons that are constricting the joints, and the foal will heal on its own. Moderately affected foals may benefit from the application of a splint, which will help hold the leg in a straight position. Care must be taken to ensure the splint is not too tight, is checked periodically as the foal grows, and that it is not causing skin sores. Treatment with the antibiotic oxytetracycline may also help, as this medication acts on soft tissue fibers to help loosen them. Severe cases of contracted tendons may require surgery, although such cases have a poor prognosis.

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