What is DSLD in Horses?

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Some equine diseases can be cured and some cannot. Unfortunately, DSLD in horses is one that cannot. DSLD, or degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis, is a relatively newly discovered equine disease that causes lameness in horses.

In this article, I’ll be discussing DSLD, what it is, what causes it, possible treatments, and how to handle a DSLD diagnosis in your horse.  As horse owners, the best thing we can do for our equine friends is to be informed of all possibilities when it comes to their health, both good and bad.

DSLD in Horses: What is DSLD?

Degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis, or DSLD, is a genetic degenerative condition that causes the horse’s ligaments to permanently inflame and stretch out.  This condition occurs over the course of a horse’s life and cannot be reversed.

The Horse describes DSLD in the following words: 

“Degenerative suspensory ligament disease causes chronic suspensory ligament breakdown—this structure runs down the back of the cannon bone and attaches to the sesamoid bones. Without its support the fetlock joints (most commonly the rear) drop below their normal angle. Resulting ligament breakdown, flexor tendon injury, and osteoarthritis in the fetlock, hock, and stifle joints lead to debilitating lameness. The disease is manageable but not curable.”

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Horses with DSLD will typically come in and out of soundness during the onset of the disease, typically in the horse’s early adulthood. Many horses that have DSLD are labeled as having “soundness issues” by vets and trainers that have trouble diagnosing an exact problem.

Sometimes, DSLD horses will even be mistaken as having some kind of neurological condition.  All of this because DSLD is extremely hard to diagnose.  For a long time, the only way to know was to administer a post mortem biopsy.  Today, however, there are ligament biopsies that can be done in order to diagnose a horse.

DSLD will eventually lead to the horse’s limbs becoming misshapen;  sometimes a horse’s fetlocks drop, hind legs become like “post” legs, and so on.  The infected legs will eventually give out and become unable to support the horse’s weight.

Though this progression can happen over the entire span of a horse’s lifetime. The speed of progression and the time that a horse can live with DSLD comfortably is unique to each situation.

DSLD in Horses: What Causes DSLD?

DSLD is a hereditary disease.  So, horses develop DLSD due to genetics and breeding. There’s nothing a horse can do to either develop or not develop DLSD;  they simply get it because it was in the genes of their sire or dam.

 DLSD was first discovered in the Peruvian Paso breed, and it continues to be found most frequently in Peruvian horses. While this is the case, nearly any horse breed can develop DSLD.  Today, DLSD has been seen in Saddlebreds, Quarter Horses, warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and others.

DSLD in Horses: Can DSLD Be Treated?

As I’ve stated above, DLSD cannot be cured.  There is no way to reverse the damage that has already happened in a horse’s ligaments.  There are, however, ways to treat horses with DSLD, in order to alleviate their pain and slow down the progression of the disease.

One way to help treat a horse with DSLD is to keep him moving.  It has been proven that activity can help relieve the pain of DSLD horses.  Different horses will be able to do different quantities of work, but movement, in general, is important to keep these horses healthy.

There are also varied methods of farrier work that can help relieve pain for horses with DSLD.  Relieving pressure on certain parts of a horse’s hoof, or providing extra cushioning, etc. depending on the horse, can make DSLD horses more comfortable.

Some horse owners believe that the use of wraps or certain sport/splint boots can help relieve their horse’s pain as well. Exact treatment should be discussed with your vet and may end up being the result of trial and error.

Every horse is different, so every horse’s treatment plan will be different. Sometimes, a treatment will seem to work for a while and then will need to be changed later on throughout a horse’s life.  Every horse is unique and every case of DSLD is unique.

How to Handle a Horse with DSLD

With no cure, how is it best to handle a horse with DSLD?  The simplest answer is to listen to your horse. Pain and lameness from DSLD can flare up and fade away over periods of time in a horse’s life.

If your horse seems to be experiencing pain from DSLD, try some form of treatment to try to help.  If your horse seems relatively pain-free, keep up whatever treatments you are currently doing.

How to Handle a Horse with DSLD

If you pay attention to your horse and know their typical behavior patterns and mannerisms you will be able to tell when something is off.  Paying attention to subtle behavioral cues like this can help you understand when your horse is experiencing more pain than normal.

The best way to handle a horse with DSLD is to try to keep him comfortable.  Simply put, DSLD horses will never be entirely comfortable like a completely sound, healthy horse.  But, they can be kept comfortable enough to be pasture pets and companions.  

So, the best way to deal with a DSLD horse is to simply keep them as comfortable as possible.  Try different kinds of treatments, pay attention to what helps and what doesn’t help, make sure they have space in which to decide how much or if they want to move, and so on.

Conclusion

Research continues to be done on DSLD to this day.  Maybe someday there will be a cure, but for now, the best we can do is to try to keep horses with DSLD comfortable and happy! And, there are many kinds of treatments that can help with this.

I hope this article helped you understand what DSLD is, and how we can best help horses that have DSLD.  If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences dealing with DSLD!

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