Q: I have owned my 24-year-old Quarter Horse, Bo, for 13 years. He has been my good friend and I have taken the best care of him I can.  He developed navicular syndrome but we dealt with that through shoeing. Now x-rays show that he has degenerative bone disease of his coffin joint, which my veterinarian and farrier have worked together to treat. 

Bo now wears pads and corrective shoes on his front feet. He is OK after he is first shod but gets gimpier as time goes on. Here’s the problem: The veterinarian says that if the corrective shoeing doesn’t provide enough relief, we will need to give my horse shots to block his pain, but my farrier told me the best thing I can do for my horse is to give him bute0 before I go trail riding. 

I have been toying with the idea of having Bo treated by an acupunc-turist. Is there anything else I can do to eliminate Bo’s pain without blocking his nerve? —  Shirley Hiser; Virginia Beach, Virginia

A: It sounds like your horse has developed degenerative joint disease secondary to navicular disease. The shoeing devised by your veterinarian and farrier helps restore the hoof biomechanics, which in turn reduces discomfort and helps your horse move better. It will not cure the disease nor will acupuncture or any other treatment.

However, many therapies can help reduce or eliminate navicular pain. Your farrier’s suggestion of bute before you ride is a short-term solution. For more lasting relief, your veterinarian can inject the coffin joint with medications to reduce the inflammation—and therefore, the pain—associated with the condition. Occasional injections of anti-inflammatory drugs into the coffin joint or navicular bursa, along with corrective shoeing, can usually keep navicular horses comfortable.

Finally, in some cases the nerves of the foot are blocked or severed to relieve pain, but this is generally done as a last resort. I suggest you have further discussions with your veterinarian about other management options.

Tracy Turner, DVM, DACVS
Anoka Equine Veterinary Services
Elk River, Minnesota