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Horse Laminitis





What is and what are the causes of Laminitis ?



Laminitis, commonly called founder, is an acutely painful inflammation of the foot. It occurs most often in the front feet although it can affect the hind feet as well. Founder is the name given to the resultant tissue damage and complications following one or a series of acute attacks of laminitis.


In the worst case, permanent damage to the laminae can result and the attachment of the coffin bone to the hoof wall breaks down. The whole weight of the horse bears down on the coffin bone, and without the attachment to the hoof wall, the bone rotates down and can actually be pushed right through the sole to the ground.


If just the two front feet are affected, the horse will stand in the "founder stance" with his hind legs well up under the body carrying as much weight as possible, and the front legs placed forward with the weight on the heel. He will be reluctant to walk and will turn by leaning back and pivoting around on the rear legs.


If all four feet are affected, the horse will lie down for extended periods and may refuse to get up. If forced to stand, he will pull his hind feet and fore feet in toward each other under the centre of his body. Other symptoms include heavy breathing and glazed eyes due to pain. The feet will feel hot and the digital artery, located over the fetlock joint, will have a pounding pulse. Each attack of acute laminitis can leave a ring formation on the hoof. A horse suffering from chronic founder will have multiple rings on his hooves. He might also have seedy toe, a separation of the hoof wall from the sensitive laminae in the toe area. If left untrimmed, the hoof wall also overgrows to form a "slipper foot".


Many different situations can cause laminitis. Grazing on lush pasture (particularly overweight horses), overloading on grain, eating lawn grass clippings, or drinking large amounts of water when overheated can all cause a horse to founder. Other causes include a mare retaining the afterbirth, hard or fast work on a hard surface or standing too long on a hard surface, and stressful situations such as colic.


If your horse develops laminitis, the first thing to do is identify and remove the cause of the problem and call a veterinarian. Treatment is given to relieve pain and reduce swelling and the horse is put on a carefully monitored feeding program. X-rays of the feet may be required to monitor progress. Long term management of a horse with founder requires careful attention to feeding to prevent a recurrence. The horse will probably have to be kept off pasture and fed hay. To keep the foot in as normal a shape as possible, corrective trimming at regular intervals by a farrier will be necessary. Corrective shoeing might also be indicated.


Chronic cases can be kept reasonably sound by proper trimming and shoeing and a sensible feeding program. However, if the horse cannot be kept pain-free, then regrettably euthanasia may be the kindest option.


Laminitis is a disease that can be avoided by following proper horse management.  Avoid feeding excesses and keep your horse at a reasonable weight. Watch for and avoid grass blooms on pastures; pull horses off the fields and onto dry lots if necessary. Feed hay in the morning and turn horses out after the lushness and dew is off the grass. Keep grain in closed bins and the door to the feed room closed.


Give horses unlimited access to fresh, clean water, except immediately after exercise, when the amount should be regulated. Make changes to routines slowly and progressively. Pay attention to breed and body types; some are more likely to founder than others. Be particularly careful with horses with thick, cresty necks and with ponies. If you have a horse or pony that has previously foundered, be extra careful to avoid a recurrence.



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