Navicular Cysts In Horses

Navicular cysts in horses are a common but often misunderstood condition that can have a significant impact on the health and performance of these magnificent animals. Understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for navicular cysts is crucial for horse owners, trainers, and veterinarians alike.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key aspects of navicular cysts in horses, including:

  • What they are
  • What causes them
  • How they are diagnosed
  • The available treatment options
  • The potential for prevention
  • The prognosis for horses with navicular cysts

By the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of this condition and be better equipped to make informed decisions about the care and management of horses affected by navicular cysts. Whether you are a seasoned equestrian or a newcomer to the world of horse care, this article aims to provide valuable insights that can benefit both you and your equine companions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Navicular cysts in horses are fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the navicular bone of a horse’s hoof.
  • The exact cause of navicular cysts is unknown, but it is believed to be a result of trauma or degenerative changes in the bone.
  • Symptoms of navicular cysts include lameness, difficulty walking, swelling, and heat in the affected area. Early diagnosis through physical examination, x-rays, and ultrasound is crucial for successful treatment.
  • What Are Navicular Cysts In Horses?

    What Are Navicular Cysts In Horses? - Navicular Cysts In Horses

    Credits: Horselife.Org – Randy Thompson

    Navicular cysts in horses refer to fluid-filled sacs that develop in the navicular bone, a critical structure in the horse’s foot, leading to lameness and discomfort.

    These cysts can arise from degenerative changes in the navicular bone, causing structural abnormalities and interfering with its function. As a result, the horse may exhibit signs of pain, such as reluctance to move, shortened stride, and increased heat in the affected foot. The presence of these cysts can also lead to inflammation and damage to the surrounding tissues, further exacerbating the lameness and discomfort experienced by the horse.

    What Causes Navicular Cysts In Horses?

    The development of navicular cysts in horses is often linked to chronic inflammation, degeneration of cartilage, and structural abnormalities in the navicular bone, potentially leading to the formation of cystic lesions.

    The inflammatory process in the navicular region can trigger the formation of cysts, with prolonged irritation and trauma being common underlying factors. Cartilage degeneration, often associated with wear and tear, can contribute to the weakening of the bone structure, predisposing it to cyst development.

    Abnormalities in the navicular bone, such as vascular or fibrous changes, can disrupt the normal bone remodeling process, further increasing the likelihood of cyst formation.

    What Are The Symptoms Of Navicular Cysts In Horses?

    Navicular cysts in horses manifest through various symptoms, including lameness, difficulty walking, local swelling, and increased heat in the affected area, signaling underlying discomfort and pathology.

    The lameness associated with navicular cysts can be intermittent or continuous, and the affected horse may exhibit a shortened stride or reluctance to move. Walking difficulties may become more pronounced on hard surfaces, as the discomfort exacerbates during impact. The local swelling and heat in the affected area are indicative of inflammation and can often be palpated during physical examination.


    Lameness in horses with navicular cysts is a primary indicator of underlying discomfort and pathology, often prompting veterinary evaluation and intervention to address the source of the issue.

    This lameness, or abnormal gait, manifests as a result of the inflammation and damage caused by the navicular cysts in the horse’s hoof. As lameness significantly impacts equine mobility, it hinders the horse’s ability to exercise, compete, or perform daily tasks, leading to a diminished quality of life.

    To properly assess the lameness, veterinarians employ a range of diagnostic techniques, including nerve blocks, radiography, and advanced imaging modalities like MRI. Once diagnosed, treatment plans may involve a combination of corrective shoeing, anti-inflammatory medications, and in severe cases, surgical intervention to alleviate the discomfort and encourage healing.

    Difficulty Walking

    Navicular cysts in horses can lead to difficulty in walking, presenting challenges for the affected animals in maintaining their normal gait and mobility.

    As these cysts develop within the navicular bone, they can cause pain and discomfort, making it strenuous for the horse to move. The structural changes resulting from the cysts can impact the load-bearing capacity of the affected limb, further exacerbating the walking impairment. Consequently, the equine’s ability to perform regular activities such as grazing, galloping, or carrying weight is significantly hindered.


    Swelling in the area of the navicular bone is a common symptom observed in horses affected by navicular cysts, indicating local inflammation and tissue disturbance.

    This swelling is often associated with pain and lameness, making it a crucial indicator for veterinary assessment. Upon detection of swelling, veterinarians typically conduct a thorough evaluation, which may include imaging techniques such as radiography or MRI to determine the extent and location of the cysts. Navicular cysts can exert pressure on surrounding structures, affecting the horse’s gait and overall performance. Effective intervention strategies may involve medication, corrective shoeing, or in some cases, surgical procedures to alleviate the swelling and restore the horse’s comfort and mobility.

    Heat In The Affected Area

    The presence of increased heat in the affected area is a notable symptom of navicular cysts in horses, signifying local inflammation and potential discomfort for the affected animals.

    This heightened temperature is a result of the body’s natural response to injury or irritation, indicating the presence of inflammatory processes. The heat generated within the affected area serves as a crucial indicator for veterinary diagnosis, enabling early identification and intervention. The discomfort experienced by the horse due to this inflammation highlights the urgency of addressing this condition, as it could potentially impact the animal’s performance and well-being.

    How Are Navicular Cysts In Horses Diagnosed?

    Diagnosing navicular cysts in horses involves a comprehensive approach, including physical examination, X-rays, and ultrasound imaging to assess the structural integrity and potential cystic formations in the navicular region.

    During physical examination, veterinarians look for signs of lameness, abnormal hoof wear, and sensitivity in the navicular area, providing crucial indications for further diagnostic imaging.

    X-rays play a pivotal role in visualizing bony changes, fragmentations, and potential cysts within the navicular bone. They enable detailed assessment of the bony structures and any irregularities that may signify the presence of navicular cysts.

    Ultrasound imaging offers a non-invasive method to evaluate soft tissues, identifying potential cystic lesions and assessing their size, location, and impact on neighboring structures. This technique provides valuable insight into the nature and extent of the navicular cysts, aiding in treatment planning and management strategies.

    Physical Examination

    A thorough physical examination is a fundamental step in diagnosing navicular cysts in horses, allowing veterinarians to assess gait, hoof integrity, and potential sources of lameness.

    During a physical examination, a skilled veterinarian evaluates the horse’s movements, looking for irregularities or signs of discomfort. This diagnostic tool aids in identifying subtle lameness and abnormalities that may be indicative of navicular cysts. Assessing hoof quality, balance, and sensitivity provides valuable insight into the overall health of the horse’s feet. By integrating physical examination into the equine health assessment process, veterinarians can make informed decisions regarding further diagnostic measures and treatment strategies, ultimately promoting the well-being of the horse.


    X-ray imaging plays a crucial role in diagnosing navicular cysts in horses, enabling veterinarians to visualize bone structures and identify potential cystic formations in the navicular region.

    By utilizing X-ray technology, veterinarians can accurately assess the extent of the navicular cysts and any associated bone abnormalities, aiding in the formulation of a targeted treatment plan.

    X-ray imaging provides invaluable insights into the progression of the condition over time, allowing for effective monitoring and adaptation of the treatment approach as necessary.


    Ultrasound imaging is employed to assess the soft tissues and structural integrity of the navicular region, aiding in the detection of cystic formations and tissue abnormalities in horses affected by navicular cysts.

    This diagnostic modality offers a non-invasive means of visualizing the navicular area, providing detailed information about the soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons that can harbor cysts. Its high-frequency sound waves penetrate the tissues, allowing for an in-depth assessment of any abnormalities. Ultrasound imaging enables veterinarians to precisely locate and evaluate the size, shape, and composition of navicular cysts, aiding in treatment planning and prognosis determination.

    What Are The Treatment Options For Navicular Cysts In Horses?

    Treating navicular cysts in horses involves rest, anti-inflammatory medications, intra-articular injections, and in severe cases, surgical intervention to address the underlying pathology and alleviate discomfort.

    Rest is a crucial part of the treatment plan as it allows the affected area to heal and reduces the strain on the horse’s limbs. Additionally, anti-inflammatory medications such as phenylbutazone and firocoxib can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in the affected area.

    In cases where conservative measures are insufficient, intra-articular injections of corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid may be considered to provide localized relief and improve joint function.

    If the condition persists or worsens, surgical intervention including cyst removal, neurectomy, or other advanced techniques may be necessary to address the underlying causes and provide long-term relief for the horse.

    Rest And Anti-inflammatory Medications

    Rest and anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed to manage navicular cysts in horses, alleviating discomfort and reducing inflammation in the affected area.

    Rest is crucial in providing the affected area with the necessary time to recover and heal, allowing the horse to avoid strenuous activities that could exacerbate the condition. Anti-inflammatory medications play a vital role in controlling the inflammatory response, thereby minimizing pain and promoting a more comfortable state for the horse. These medications help reduce swelling and ease the pressure on the affected area, aiding in the horse’s overall well-being. They form an essential component of the supportive care required in the treatment of navicular cysts.

    Intra-articular Injections

    Intra-articular injections are administered to horses with navicular cysts to deliver targeted medication and alleviate discomfort within the affected joint, offering localized relief and support.

    These injections are a direct and precise method to introduce medication into the joint space, ensuring it reaches the specific source of discomfort. By targeting the affected area with a concentrated dose, intra-articular injections can minimize systemic side effects and maximize therapeutic effects, providing a more efficient and localized treatment. This approach is particularly beneficial for navicular cysts as it directly addresses the joint pathology, aiming to decrease inflammation, support joint function, and enhance the horse’s overall comfort and mobility.

    As a part of the comprehensive treatment plan, intra-articular injections play a vital role in managing the symptoms and promoting recovery.

    Surgical Removal

    Surgical removal of navicular cysts in horses is considered in severe cases, aiming to address the underlying pathology and provide long-term relief from the associated discomfort and lameness.

    Navicular cysts, also known as intratendinous or para-tendinous cyst-like lesions, can be a source of significant pain and decreased performance in affected horses. When conservative treatments such as rest, shoeing modifications, and medications fail to alleviate the symptoms, surgical intervention becomes a viable option. The procedure typically involves a thorough evaluation of the cyst’s size, location, and impact on the surrounding structures before determining the most suitable approach.

    Upon opting for surgical removal, the horse undergoes a meticulous preoperative assessment to ensure its fitness for the procedure. The surgical technique varies based on the specific characteristics of the cyst and its relationship with adjacent structures, with the primary goal being complete excision while minimizing damage to the surrounding tissues. Postoperatively, a tailored rehabilitation program is integral to facilitate optimal healing and restore the horse’s soundness.

    Can Navicular Cysts In Horses Be Prevented?

    Can Navicular Cysts In Horses Be Prevented? - Navicular Cysts In Horses

    Credits: Horselife.Org – Aaron Wilson

    Preventing the development of navicular cysts in horses involves regular hoof care, balanced exercise, and attentive monitoring of any signs of lameness or discomfort, contributing to proactive equine health management.

    Proper hoof care includes routine trimming and balancing to alleviate excessive pressure and strain on the navicular bone and surrounding structures. Ensuring a well-maintained and clean environment can help prevent bacterial infections which may contribute to cyst development.

    Implementing a well-rounded exercise regimen that includes both controlled turnout and varied surface work can help promote healthy circulation and improve overall hoof function, reducing the likelihood of developing navicular issues.

    Regular monitoring for any subtle changes in gait, behavior, or hoof sensitivity is crucial for early detection and intervention. Equine professionals should utilize diagnostic imaging and collaborate with veterinarians to address any potential issues before they escalate.

    What Is The Prognosis For Horses With Navicular Cysts?

    The prognosis for horses with navicular cysts varies depending on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of the treatment, with early intervention and comprehensive management contributing to improved recovery and long-term comfort.

    Navicular cysts in horses can significantly affect their soundness and athletic performance. In some cases, mild cysts may respond well to conservative treatments, such as corrective shoeing and medication. For more severe cases, surgical intervention, like cyst debridement or navicular bursa injections, may be necessary to alleviate pain and improve the horse’s prognosis. It’s crucial to consider the individual horse’s response to treatment and the potential for recurrence when determining the long-term outlook for horses with navicular cysts.


    Conclusion - Navicular Cysts In Horses

    Credits: Horselife.Org – Ralph Mitchell

    In conclusion, navicular cysts pose significant challenges for horses, necessitating comprehensive veterinary care, proactive management, and tailored treatment approaches to ensure their well-being and comfort.

    These cysts, located within the navicular bone in the horse’s hoof, can lead to lameness and decreased performance, impacting the overall quality of life. It is crucial for equine owners and handlers to work closely with experienced veterinarians and equine specialists to develop a holistic care plan that addresses the unique needs of each horse.

    Regular monitoring, advanced imaging techniques, and nutritional support play pivotal roles in managing navicular cysts and minimizing their impact on the horse’s mobility. A combination of proper farriery practices and appropriate exercise regimens is paramount for promoting soundness and comfort for horses affected by this condition.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are navicular cysts in horses?

    Navicular cysts in horses are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the navicular bone, a small bone in the foot that is responsible for supporting the horse’s weight and facilitating movement.

    What are the symptoms of navicular cysts in horses?

    Common symptoms of navicular cysts in horses include lameness, difficulty walking or trotting, reluctance to put weight on the affected foot, and swelling or heat in the affected area.

    How are navicular cysts in horses diagnosed?

    Navicular cysts in horses can be diagnosed through a combination of a physical exam, imaging tests such as X-rays or ultrasound, and a lameness evaluation. Your veterinarian may also perform nerve blocks to determine the location and severity of the cysts.

    What causes navicular cysts in horses?

    The exact cause of navicular cysts in horses is unknown, but it is believed to be a result of inflammation or degeneration of the navicular bone. Certain breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, may be more predisposed to developing these cysts.

    Can navicular cysts in horses be treated?

    Yes, in most cases, navicular cysts in horses can be treated. Treatment options include rest, anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroid injections, and surgical removal of the cysts. The approach will depend on the severity of the cysts and the horse’s individual condition.

    Is navicular cysts in horses a lifelong condition?

    Not necessarily. With proper treatment and management, many horses can recover from navicular cysts and return to their normal level of activity. However, some horses may experience recurring cysts or require ongoing maintenance to manage the condition.

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