Lameness Exams: Vets Seek Reliable Approach

After identifying a lack of reliability and repeatability in experienced veterinarians' evaluation of lameness, a group of vets have challenged the industry to search for and develop "a more objective and reliable method of lameness evaluation for us in the field," and noted that such efforts "should be encouraged and supported."

While other published studies have previously found low agreement between veterinarians for the subjective scoring of lameness using videotapes of horses on a treadmill, no studies had been performed assessing veterinarian's agreement in lameness assessment using the American Association of Equine Practitioners' (AAEP) lameness scale for examining large numbers of live horses over ground.

To fill this void and estimate the reliability of equine practitioners' full lameness evaluations in live horses over ground, Kevin Keegan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor of equine surgery in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery at the University of Missouri, and 15 colleagues analyzed the results of lameness examinations performed by an average of 2.5 clinicians (with approximately 18.7 years of experience) using 131 mature horses.

"Veterinarians graded each limb using the AAEP lameness scale by first watching the horse trot in a straight line only and then after full lameness evaluation," wrote the researchers.

Key findings of this study were:

  • Equine practitioners agreed whether a limb was lame or not 76.6% of the time after trotting the horse in a straight line;
  • Veterinarians agreed whether a limb was lame or not 72.9% of the time after completing a full lameness evaluation;
  • Clinicians agreed on whether a limb was lame or not more frequently if the lameness occurred in the forelimb rather than the hindlimb;
  • If the AAEP lameness score was greater than 1.5, the veterinarians agreed whether a limb was lame or not 93.1% of the time;
  • If the AAEP lameness score was less than or equal to 1.5, the veterinarian's only agreed 61.9% of the time, and
  • When the equine practitioners were asked to decide whether a horse was or was not lame and to pick the limb that was the most lame, they agreed just over half (51.6%) of the time.

The researchers noted, "Lameness is the most economical and important medical condition affecting horses." Being able to accurately and consistently diagnose lameness to ultimately initiate effective therapy is essential.

The study, "Repeatability of subjective evaluation of lameness in horses," is scheduled to be published in an upcoming edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The full article is available for free online.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.