Merck Manual

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Overview of Lameness in Small Animals


Joseph Harari

, MS, DVM, DACVS, Veterinary Surgical Specialists, Spokane, WA

Last full review/revision May 2013 | Content last modified May 2013

Signs of musculoskeletal disorders include weakness, lameness, limb swelling, and joint dysfunction. Motor or sensory neurologic impairment may develop secondary to neuromuscular lesions. Abnormalities of the musculoskeletal system may also affect other organs of the endocrine, urinary, digestive, hemolymphatic, and cardiopulmonary systems. Evaluation of musculoskeletal disease is aimed at localizing and defining the lesion(s). Diagnosis requires accurate review of the signalment, history, and physical status of the animal. A lameness examination is critical to determine a diagnosis. Useful ancillary tests include radiography, ultrasonography, arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, arthrography, electromyography, and tissue biopsy and histopathology. For subtle lesions, advanced imaging techniques, including bone scans, CT, and MRI, are being used with greater frequency in specialty clinics and university hospitals.

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