Do horses with broken legs have to be shot?

Can You Fix a Horse's Broken Leg?

Younger horses have a better chance of full recovery after breaking a leg.
Younger horses have a better chance of full recovery after breaking a leg.
Joe Drivas/Photographer's Choice RR/Getty Images

Though horses are still frequently euthanized after breaking a leg, today's procedure is usually accomplished in a more humane manner, like with an intravenous injection of barbiturates, performed by a veterinarian [source: Equine Protection Network]. And it's not just racehorses that sustain leg injuries -- tiny ponies can, too. In addition to kicks and crashes, simple accidents like missteps can cause serious breaks and injuries. Fatigue and the musculoskeletal structure of the horse itself can also be factors. Hard-to-diagnose pre-existing issues such as strained tendons, hairline fractures and microfractures can also contribute to broken bones.

If the worst should happen and a horse breaks its leg, there are a number of factors that help determine if a vet can fix a horse's broken leg and bring the animal back to good health. Some questions an owner with an injured animal needs to ask include:

  • How bad is the break? The type of break makes a big difference in determining whether a horse will be able to recover successfully. Horses suffer fractures along a wide spectrum of severity. For instance, having an incomplete fracture involves the bone cracking, but not entirely breaking. This is easier to deal with than a complete fracture, which can result in the bone shattering. Many horses with incomplete fractures can recover. Extensive damage and multiple breaks are closely linked with the possible need for euthanasia. Whether or not the bone fragments protrude through the skin is also a consideration because exposed bone can increase the chance of complications, as we'll discuss below.
  • How old is the horse? Younger horses generally stand a better chance at recovering from a broken leg because their bones are still growing. These horses are usually lighter and put less weight on the injury.
  • Where is the break? Bones in different areas of the leg have different degrees of success when it comes to healing. As an example, a break in the lower leg can be difficult to mend because horses have fewer blood vessels there. The recovery process can take even longer if one of the horse's larger bones break.

Even if a horse owner decides to give the broken leg a chance to heal, there are a number of things that can go wrong during the recovery process. Learn about some of the hurdles these horses face on the next page. ­