Kissing spine in horses: Why and What to Do

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Horse owners need to recognize the signs of kissing spine in their horses, as this condition can be fatal. This article provides an overview of what kissing spine is and how it is diagnosed. 

It also includes tips on prevention methods that you can use with your horse to help keep them safe from developing the condition. 

Kissing spine (also known as wobbler disease or cervical vertebral malformation) is a spinal disorder in horses where neurological compression affects the animal’s ability to walk, eat, drink, and hold its head up properly. 

Horses with kissing spine may show weakness in one or both hind limbs or stiffness in the neck when trying to turn it left or right.

kissing spine in horses images
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What is a kissing spine in horses?

Kissing spine is a term used to describe when two or more vertebrae in the backbone are touching each other. This can happen due to various reasons, but it is usually because of an injury. These injuries could be caused by jumping off something too high, being kicked by another horse, or any number of events that may cause harm to the back.

A horse’s spine is made up of a series of small, individual bones called the vertebrae. Intervertebral discs and ligaments connect these vertebrae. When a horse flexes its back (bends it) during kissing, the pressure placed on these bones can cause damage to them. 

Kissing spines in horses often occur when jumping or running over fences with obstacles like large or water jumps. This type of injury will usually be found on the left side because most right-handed riders position their hands and legs for jumping maneuvers.

The most common type of kissing spine is the cervical vertebrae, located at the base of the neck.

Other types of kissing spines include thoracic, lumbar, and sacral vertebrae. It’s essential to get your horse an x-ray if you suspect he has a kissing spine because it could be life-threatening.

Kissing Spine in Horses Symptoms

Kissing spine is a disease in horses that causes them to have difficulty with their movement and balance. 

The kissing spine in horses symptoms includes:

  • An unusual gait.
  • Splaying of the hooves when standing.
  • Stiffness in the back legs and neck.
  • Sensitivity or pain on palpation along either side of the spinous processes (the bony protrusions where spinal nerve roots emerge).
  • Muscle atrophy in one or both hindquarters.

Kissing Spine Horse Behavior

Kissing Spine Horse Behavior
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Kissing spine is a condition in which horses show signs of back pain by licking or chewing on the backs of their hind legs. This behavior is typical in horses with Cushing’s disease, but it can also indicate other conditions such as arthritis and laminitis. 

It may be challenging to diagnose kissing spine since many horses will only display one symptom while others may indicate more than one.

Kissing Spine in Horses Diagnosis

A variety of conditions can cause a horse to display signs of pain when ridden, but one common issue is the kissing spine. Kissing the spine in horses occurs when changes to the front and back vertebrae create pressure on the spinal cord, causing discomfort for your equine friend. 

Many factors can induce this condition, including arthritis or injuries that have not healed fully. If you mark any of these symptoms in your horse, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to determine if they are suffering from kissing spine. 

On average, about 50% of all horses will experience some degree of lameness during their lifetime! However, the severity varies greatly depending on breed and age.

Treatment for Kissing Spine in Horses

Horses with kissing spines have a shorter, upright neck and are more common in large breeds. Treatment for kissing spine is different depending on the severity of the condition.

Home treatments for mild cases include applying cold packs or ice wraps to the horse’s back. 

Severe cases may need surgery, but there are many treatments available before surgery becomes necessary.

It is not recommended that horses be ridden until their therapy has been established and they are pain-free.

Some tips:

  1. Immobilize the horse in a stall or on a trailer.
  2. Apply ice packs or cold water to reduce swelling.
  3. Treat the horse’s pain with anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics.
  4. Remove any objects that are pressing on the spine, such as tack, blankets, etc…
  5. Keep the animal quiet for at least 24 hours after treatment 
  6. Provide heat therapy if there is no improvement within 48 hours of initial treatment.

Kissing Spine in Horses Surgery

Kissing spine in horses surgery is a procedure that involves removing the vertebrae bones from the back of the horse’s neck. Pressure on the spinal cord caused by injury or disease can be relieved with this technique.

The surgical procedure has been shown to improve the quality of life for affected horses and may increase their lifespan.

In horses, this condition can cause severe pain and affect their ability to walk correctly. Practitioners need to know about this condition because it could lead to other problems if not treated promptly.

Often surgery is necessary to treat a kissing spine. Still, many factors play into whether or not surgery will be successful such as the horse’s age and the severity of the damage sustained during injury.

Kissing spine in horse surgery costs from $2500-$5000 depending on various factors, including complications or any other health problems present besides the injury. The price varies when looking at complication rates, complexity, patient’s medical history, specific equipment needed for the operation.

Kissing Spine in Horses Genetic

Kissing spine is a genetic neurological disorder that results in horses being unable to use their hind legs. This condition can be seen as early as two years of age, and the horse will not improve with time or treatment. However, some management techniques can help keep your horse comfortable. 

Kissing spine occurs when a young foal does not develop appropriately while inside its mother’s womb. During gestation, the fetus’s spine forms from two separate halves fusing, preventing movement between them. When this fusion fails to occur usually, it causes kissing spine paralysis in one or both rear limbs (Hendrickson, 2013). Affected animals may also show signs such as knuckling over at the fetlocks and hock.

Kissing Spine Horse Rehabilitation

Many horses can be rehabilitated from a kissing spine injury, but it is important to understand the steps necessary for treatment and what you might expect during this process. 

The first step should always be to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. A vet will need to do some diagnostics such as assessing your horse’s ability to move, pain levels, and taking x-rays of the area suspected of being injured. 

After treatment has begun, you must help your horse stay calm and comfortable while they heal, or else there could be negative consequences on their recovery rate! 

Kissing Spine Exercises for Horses

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Kissing spine exercises are a tried-and-true technique for rehabilitating horses with back pain. These gentle exercises can be performed solo or with the horse’s regular exercise regime to relieve soreness and reduce inflammation. 

Kissing spine exercises aim to stimulate blood flow, promote nerve function, and improve coordination between muscles that support the spine. With consistent practice, these simple movements will help keep your affected horse healthy and happy!

Follow these steps below to find out more about this kissing spine exercise for horses! 


  1. Find your horse’s withers by placing one hand on top of the other at the base of his neck, where his back meets his shoulder blades. 
  2. With both hands, pull up, so you feel the tension in the skin over each vertebra.

How to Prevent A Kissing Spines in Horses

  1. Keep your horse’s back well-conditioned
  2. Use a saddle pad that is designed to avoid kissing spines.(Check our Best saddle pad for kissing spine article.)
  3. Feed your horse high-quality hay and grain.
  4. Keep the spine warm with a blanket, rug, or sheet.
  5. Provide plenty of water for horses.
  6. Keep your horse’s feet regularly trimmed and in good shape.
  7. Keep your horse out of wet, muddy conditions as much as possible.
  8. Give the horse time to dry off after being outside in damp weather or from sweating excessively.
  9. Provide plenty of exercises for the horse to build back and neck muscles to support itself better while being ridden.
  10. Ensure that there is sufficient space for the horse to lie down comfortably when it wants to rest.

Best Supplements for Kissing Spine in Horses

Equestrians have a lot to think about, from their horse’s diet to the tack they wear. 

One crucial factor that is often neglected by riders is how much time and money they put into supplements for their horses’ health. 

We’ve compiled a list of our top five preferred supplements for kissing spine in horses so you can be prepared if your equine has this condition.

  1. Nutramax Cosequin Equine Optimized with MSM
  2. Manna Pro Simply Flax for Horses | Omega-3 Fatty Acids from Flaxseed
  3. Uckele Devils Claw Plus Horse Supplement
  4. Boswellia Balm – 7 oz. – Muscle & Joint Support for Horses – Safe & Effective
  5. TruCare EQ Top-Dress Trace Mineral Blend for Horses (Methionine, Lysine, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Cobalt)

Is kissing spine in horses hereditary?

Kissing spine is an often misdiagnosed disease in horses. Kissing spine can be hereditary, but it is not always the case. 

Horses with kissing spine may display problems such as lameness, stiffness of the neck and head, lack of appetite, or excessive thirst.

A veterinarian will diagnose a horse’s condition by running tests that include blood work and X-rays. So if you suspect your horse has kissing spine, contact your vet for help!

Is kissing spine in horses treatable?

Kissing spine is a condition in which the horse’s spine curves sideways, forward, or backward. This can cause the horse to have discomfort and pain. 

It is treatable with rest, drugs, surgery, and other treatments deemed necessary by your veterinarian.

Is kissing spine in horses curable?

It’s difficult to say with certainty whether kissing spine in horses is curable. 

The condition has been treated successfully by veterinarians, and some cases, such as those involving chiropractic therapy, have shown positive results. 

The great news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition. Unfortunately, horses diagnosed with kissing spine often go through a series of treatments before the best one is found. 

There may be some trial and error included until you find what works for your horse, but it will all be deserving it in the end!

What does kissing spine look like in horses?

The most common area for this issue to arise is the thoracolumbar region, which spans T9-L1. 

There are many different signs that a horse has kissing spine, including stiffness in their back limbs, difficulty rising after lying down, head tossing when being led around, and reluctance to trot up hills or walk over uneven ground. 

These symptoms may be more pronounced on one side than another but can affect both sides of the body equally if bilateral (a condition known as panosteitis).

Can a horse with kissing spine jump?

A horse with kissing spine cannot jump. When the horse tries to do so, it induces pain in its back, preventing the animal from jumping high enough to clear any obstacle. 

Horses that are affected by kissing spine can only jump very low obstacles, which limits their usefulness. 


The spine is a vital part of the equine body, and if it becomes injured or diseased, there could be severe consequences for the animal. 

Understanding how to identify kissing spines in horses can help you understand what symptoms to look out for so that your horse does not have to suffer from this condition. 

Knowing where the vertebrae are located on their back will also give them more protection by preventing injury during co-mingling with other animals at competitions or exhibitions. This can happen to a young horse, performance horses older horse, normal horse & all types of horses, it depends on the situation.

This article has provided several helpful tips about identifying kissing spine in horses and understanding why it occurs, and some methods used to treat the disease.

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