When To Euthanize A Horse With DSLD?

There are no absolute rules for making this decision. Each horse is an individual, and may have a different combination of symptoms that affect his quality of life. This is one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make. Here are some guidelines:

Euthanasia is appropriate when your horse has chronic wounds or sores that cannot heal. Horses with DSLD are prone to wound infections because of their reduced mobility and impaired immune systems. Wounds that don’t heal can become fly-infested and a source of constant misery for your horse.

Euthanasia is also appropriate if your horse has persistent, untreatable pain from progressive joint fusion, arthritis, or other degenerative conditions. If the pain can’t be reduced to a manageable level with medical treatment, euthanasia is the kindest option.

A veterinary surgeon can help you decide when it’s time to relieve your horse’s suffering.

But first things first. What is DSLD in horse?

What does DSLD stand for?

DSLD stands for Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis. This is a disease that causes deterioration of the suspensory ligaments in the legs of horses. The suspensory ligaments attach the cannon bones to the legs. Once this degeneration may progress, horses cannot walk or stand.

Symptoms and Progression of DSLD

Because DSLD is a progressive disease, symptoms begin slowly and worsen. If a horse has DSLD, he may have trouble with balance and coordination, particularly when turning corners or going down steep grades. He may also show signs of lameness, usually in several limbs at once. We can attribute these symptoms to many other conditions as well, so it’s important to have your vet evaluate your horse if you notice any unusual behavior.

DSLD is fatal because it can cause lameness in all four legs at once. When this happens, horses can no longer support their own weight and must be euthanized because of humane reasons. For this reason, early detection of DSLD is crucial, since there’s no cure for the disease once it progresses too far.

When should a horse with DSLD be euthanized?

A common question asked by owners of horses with DSLD is “When do I have my horse euthanized?”

The question of when to euthanize a horse is never an easy one, and there is no clear-cut answer. Euthanasia is a highly personal decision that the owner of a horse must make in consultation with his or her veterinarian. It is a decision based on quality of life and the welfare of the animal.

When deciding whether to euthanize your horse with DSLD, there are several factors to consider such as

Pain level

Horses in pain should not suffer. Horses can be dosed with medications to keep them comfortable, but if they are not responding well to medication, it’s time to consider humane euthanasia. 

Ability to walk

While horses can live comfortably while confined to a stall, they are not designed to be stall bound. Without access to fresh air and pasture, horses tend to develop other health problems that may require more care and additional medications. A horse at pasture also tends to be happier than one that is stalled full time. If your horse can’t walk, it should be euthanized.

Not eating

If your horse stops eating or has difficulty swallowing or chewing, then it is a good indicator that it may be time to euthanize. A healthy horse will eat anywhere from 1% – 2% of its body weight in feed daily, which equals about 10 – 20 lbs. of hay per day for an 1100 lb. horse. If a horse stops eating, it will rapidly lose weight and its condition will deteriorate.


Here are some answers regarding DSLD in horses.

What does it mean when a horse has DSLD?

When you think of a horse that is in pain and/or suffering, it is easy to imagine the whinnying and thrashing that would accompany such distress. However, when a horse has a condition such as Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis–or DSLD–the signs of discomfort can be much more subtle (and therefore harder to notice). Sometimes, the only way to tell that the horse is in significant pain is to know what to look for.

DSLD can affect any horse at any age, but it is most commonly seen in Thoroughbreds between 7-10 years old. It occurs when microscopic tears are present in the suspensory ligaments and these tears heal improperly. The body will attempt to repair these tears by producing “neo ligaments”–connective tissue that resembles scar tissue. As this neo ligament spreads throughout the suspensory ligaments, the normal elasticity of these structures breaks down and rigidity and loss of function set in.

The onset of DSLD symptoms may be gradual and difficult for an owner or trainer to notice. In fact, many horses suffer from this condition for several months before it is brought to a veterinarian.

How does DSLD affect my horse?

DSLD usually starts with an injury to the leg, and then persists and develops into a chronic problem. In its early stages, you may not notice right away an injury. Once your horse shows signs of lameness, the best treatment option is rest. However, this may not allow your horse to return to work as needed. While there are treatment options available for DSLD, they do not cure the disease and do not guarantee a full recovery from lameness.

Can I ride a horse with DSLD?

No, You should not ride a horse with DSLD because the disease is degenerative and worsens. Riding a horse that has DSLD can cause severe pain and discomfort for the animal and result in injury to its hooves, legs, spine, and other parts of the body.

Is DSLD Painful?

DSLD is a disease that affects the horse’s entire body, leading to pain and discomfort.

Pain can be hard to detect in horses with DSLD, as they tend to be stoic animals that do not show pain easily. Your horse may appear to be his normal self and acting normally, so it is important to keep an eye out for subtle changes in behavior. Signs of pain may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Reluctance to move or stand
  • Lameness
  • Arching of the back or flinching when touched in certain areas

Can DSLD Be Cured?

So far, there isn’t a cure for DSLD. But, you can improve the quality of life for your horse.

The best way to do this is by keeping your horse at a healthy weight and body condition score. This will help relieve some of the pressure on the soft tissues in your horse’s feet.

If you have a horse with DSLD, it’s important to work with your veterinarian to develop a management plan that will help support his feet. Your vet will examine your horse’s feet and make recommendations based on the individual circumstances.

  • They might recommend corrective shoeing or special boots that will protect his feet until they become more stable.
  • You may need to change how often your horse is ridden or what types of activities he takes part in. Some horses with DSLD can still perform light work such as trail riding or low-level competition.
  • Your vet might also prescribe pain medication for your horse if he’s suffering from foot discomfort or lameness issues.
  • Your goal should be to keep your horse comfortable and maintain his quality of life for as long as possible.

Does DSLD Cause Drop Fetlocks?

I would not say that it is the sole cause of dropped fetlocks, but I would say that we often associate dropped fetlocks with DSLD and other degenerative diseases of joints in horses. DSLD can cause dropped fetlocks when they become degenerative and inflamed.

It is important to note that not all horses experience this symptom and is not caused by DSLD. The dropped fetlock often occurs in horses that have DSLD and are ridden more often than horses without dropped fetlocks. This is because horses who have DSLD may have a more difficult time holding up their legs when standing or walking because of joint pain from inflammation and degeneration.

There are several reasons a horse would develop dropped fetlocks. Some of them include:

Age: older horses are more prone to developing this problem than younger ones;

Sex: males usually suffer from it more frequently than females;

Genetics: some breeds are predisposed towards developing fetlock problems because of their conformation (such as stocky ponies with short legs);

Lack of exercise: lack of exercise can lead to muscle weakness which makes it harder for the horse to keep its leg straight when bearing weight on it (weight bearing causes joints like knees or hocks to bend slightly).

How long can a horse live with DSLD?

There isn’t much information available about how long a horse can be expected to live with DSLD after diagnosis. Most horses experience some improvement if they are managed appropriately and have access to pain medications, but these treatments do not prevent the disease from progressing.

Horses with very mild cases may live comfortably for years, while horses with severe cases may require euthanasia within months of diagnosis. If a horse’s condition deteriorates rapidly, they must be euthanized as soon as possible to relieve them of their suffering.

If your horse has been diagnosed with DSLD, your veterinarian will work closely with you to provide care and monitor your horse’s quality of life throughout their illness. When you notice signs of deterioration or when your horse stops enjoying activities that previously brought them pleasure, talk with your vet about whether it’s time to say goodbye or pursue additional treatment.


After the initial diagnosis, it is a waiting game to see how the disease progresses. It is difficult to determine exactly when to euthanize a horse with DSLD. The disease affects each horse differently, so there is no set timeline for showing signs of pain and discomfort.

One thing that is certain, though, is that you will notice a decrease in their quality of life as the disease progresses. This can include but is not limited to:

• Not wanting to move around as much or act like they are in pain when moving

• Having trouble getting up after laying down

• A noticeable listlessness and disinterest in life

• Not eating or drinking as much as they used to

• Less energy than normal

• Trouble breathing

• Muscle wasting away

• Unable to rise at all

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