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Overview of Lameness in Small Animals


Joseph Harari

, MS, DVM, DACVS, Veterinary Surgical Specialists, Spokane, WA

Last full review/revision Jun 2021 | Content last modified Jun 2021

Clinical signs of musculoskeletal disorders include weakness, lameness, limb swelling, and joint dysfunction. Motor or sensory neurologic impairment may develop secondary to neuromuscular lesions. Abnormalities of the musculoskeletal system may also affect other organs of the endocrine, urinary, digestive, hemolymphatic, and cardiopulmonary systems.

Evaluation of musculoskeletal disease is aimed at localizing and defining the lesion(s). Diagnosis requires accurate review of the signalment, history, and physical status of the animal. A lameness examination is critical to determine a diagnosis. Useful ancillary tests include radiography, ultrasonography, arthrocentesis, diagnostic arthroscopy, arthrography, electromyography, and tissue biopsy and histopathologic examination. For subtle lesions, advanced diagnostic imaging techniques, including bone scans (nuclear scintigraphy), CT, and MRI, are increasingly used in referral and university teaching hospitals.

For More Information

  • Also see pet health content regarding lameness in dogs, cats, and horses.

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Musculoskeletal Disorders in Large Animals
A seven-year-old Quarter horse gelding presents with a 1-week history of mild lameness. During the examination, the horse raises his head as he places weight on his left forelimb and drops it when placing weight on the right forelimb. Which limb is most likely affected in this horse?
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