Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis

One of my earlier posts about Solidare led to a comment about DSLD (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis). Because this disease is believed to be a genetic disorder I think it is important to mention it here. The most comprehensive Information on the subject is the actual study that renamed this disease as ESPA (Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation).

This illness is a debilitating disease. It is extremely painful and easily cripples affected horses. It strikes not just the suspensory ligament as was first believed but can affect all connective tissue throughout the horse's body including in the eye and in the heart of the horse.

The most commonly recognized expression is in the fetlock area of the horse. That can be seen in all four legs or just the front or back with the horse dropping down suddenly or digressing over time. Even when the disease manifests with dropped fetlocks in only two legs, the other two legs are affected as well. That can be seen by the thickening of the suspensory ligament which may happen gradually or be present right from onset.

The disease can be diagnosed with an assortment of symptoms and usually require ultra sound of tendons and ligaments for confirmation.

Symptoms can include sudden onset of heat, pain and swelling in the suspensory branches and/or fetlock area.

Those areas or even the entire suspensory ligament of the horse may be painful upon palpation.

Ligaments and tendons may palpate as lumpy, hard or extremely mushy.

Horses may have abnormally high iron levels.

They may have abnormally loose skin.

They may look much older than they actually are.

There are also an assortment of behaviors indicative of neurological disease that indicate a horse may be a victim of DSLD. Because of the neurological aspects of these symptoms some horses may be misdiagnosed as having EPM (Equine Protozoal Myloencphepalytis) or WNV (West Nile Virus) when in fact DSLD is the culprit.

I believe this disease was referenced in regard to Solidare because of her dropped fetlocks. This is indeed one of the symptoms of this disease but it takes more symptoms than just dropped fetlocks to diagnosis this debilitating disease.

Solidare did not manifest any of those other symptoms at the time of her injury and to this day she does not have the tell tale thickening of the suspensory ligaments in her front legs that would have presented long ago has this been the cause of her dropped fetlocks. Any similar symptoms she has developed over time are consistent with her history and do not indicate a change of diagnosis.

It is important to remember not all horses with dropped fetlocks have DSLD/ESPA. There are other medical reasons a horse could end up with this condition and those reasons are investigated in process of diagnosis of DSLD/ESPA. A horse, like Solidare, that has an injury/illness history to warrant the condition of her fetlocks does not fit the profile of a DSLD/ESPA horse and some of the new treatment protocols for DSLD/ESPA are actually contrary to proper treatment for her.

Dr Deb Bennett stated she would not remove a horse from a breeding population for dropped fetlocks alone. I also know that Sheila Varian does not eliminate broodmares from her breeding program solely on dropped fetlocks. It's from her I learned about the feed additive she uses on her mares in similar condition that has brought Solidare some relief.

I believe it's very important to consider DSLD/ESPA as a possible diagnosis for any horse dropped down on the fetlock. It should not, however, be considered to be THE answer to all fetlock issues. The most important thing for the horse is to have a CORRECT diagnosis whatever that might be.


  1. Very interesting, thanks for the insights

  2. DSLD had come to my mind but I know you mentioned the injuries she had.
    How's she doing?

  3. fernvalley, thanks for commenting. I never know if I should post this stuff or not.

    Fantastyk Voyager, Solidare is doing better. She's putting on weight and regaining some muscle but still having problems with that one leg.