A neurectomy, or de-nerving operation, was offered to Otis a few months ago. Since then, it has been on my list of blog subjects, but has never made it to the top. But now here it is.
Neurectomies are sensitive subjects for a number of reasons. The procedure involves severing the problematic nerve leaving the horse pain free. This sounds great, but it`s solving the symptom of the problem, and not the root cause. I remember learning about different psychological treatments in psychology A-level and there was always a big debate about which methods simply covered up the problem and which got to the root cause. Similarly, with physical problems there are true symptoms, such as a broken leg, but also additional symptoms caused by walking with a limp, If you only solve the additional symptoms they`re just going to reoccur because the leg is still broken.
I`m going off on a tangent. Neurectomies are most commonly performed on horses suffering from navicular.
To me, a neurectomy is just stopping the horse feeling pain in the foot, and if they can`t feel the pain will continue to walk or use the limb incorrectly, which will cause problems in other areas of their body. Which will surely cause soundness issues down the line.
Horses can usually return to their normal workload after the surgery… but is it ethical to keep working a horse who has a numb foot? And like I said earlier, if they can`t feel that foot are they more likely to injure it by knocking it against jumps or in the field, and what other strains does it put on their body? I think it`s different if you are going to retire them, and just want them to live out their days pain free.
Onto the cons … although surgery has a higher success rate now due to technological and scientific advances, the nerve will regrow within a couple of years, leaving you in exactly the same position as before. And you can`t repeat the procedure.
Careful management and shoeing routines are needed to prevent further problems as the horse can`t feel his leg, so if he has a foot imbalance it will stress other connective tissue within the hoof capsule. Also, with a de-nerved foot they cannot feel the pain of a foot abscess, which could lead to you not treating it in time and them getting a bone infection.
Neurectomies aren`t traceable, which means that if the horse changes hands their new vet will not be able to identify that they’ve had this procedure, which can lead to mismanagement, or competing illegally.
This procedure seems complicated and has numerous potential complications, with varying success rates. I found an article in Dressage Today that explained it in a fairly non-biased way – check it out here.
I also found a video – watch it here – which was interesting, and augmented my view that it is a last-ditch resort.
In my personal view, I`d want to try every other viable option before a neurectomy because I don’t think it`s fair to expect a horse to be an athlete without the feeling in his foot, and the risk of complications or it being unsuccessful are a heavy weight to balance.