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What is it?

Laminitis may also be called "Founder". By Definition Laminitis is "Inflammation of the sensitive laminae within a horse’s foot". The sensitive laminae are a leaf like structure lying between bone horn. Their function is to supply nutrition to the horn of the horse’s hoof to bind the bone horn together.

Laminitis is often considered to be an affliction of overfed under worked ponies, but this is not necessarily the case. The basic cause is a substantial change to the blood supply of the sensitive laminae; in most cases this is due to the presence of toxins in the bloodstream.

What causes it?

Various agents can cause a change in laminae blood flow, examples as follows:

  • Excess Feeding of ‘Carbohydrate Rich’ foods leading to the passing of toxins from within the gut to within the bloodstream.
  • Infections such as Metritis or Septicaemia (retained afterbirth for example) leading to the release of toxins into the bloodstream.
  • Physical concussion or stress to the foot that thereby damages the laminae directly.
  • Liver Disease i.e. reduced ability to detoxify the blood.
  • General Metabolic Disruptions such as colic or exhaustion
  • Excess Steroids due to medical treatment or Pituitary Disease.
  • Hormonal Imbalances

What are the symptoms?

The severity of Laminitis can vary considerably but typical symptoms are:

  • Pain / heat in hooves
  • Leaning back on to heels, if front feet are affected
  • Standing with feet bunched underneath the body, if hind feet are affected
  • Sweating
  • Raised temperature, pulse breathing
  • Unwillingness to move or stand up
  • Dished or ringed hooves, where rings diverge at the heels (chronic form of laminitis)

What can happen if left untreated?

Laminitis is a serious condition that if not recognised treated, can present a risk to the horse’s life.

Acute forms of the disease may develop quickly. A fever of 105° F may develop, the horse is obviously in great pain, a strong pulse may be seen in the arteries of the lower leg. Bloody secretions may appear from the coronet band. Death will normally occur within 1- 2 days.

Chronic forms develop somewhat more slowly. Ringing / banding of the hoof is evident. Over a period of days the horse may shed the horn from its feet, exposing the sensitive laminae. Associated with this, there is a high risk of infection of the laminae; a secondary problem that may lead to the death of the horse. A final problem may be in the rotation of the pedal bone. The pedal bone is the very end bone of the horse’s leg, situated at the centre of the hoof. Rotation of the pedal bone may force it to break through the base of the foot, though this is only in severe cases.

What’s the treatment?

Seek professional assistance. The keys to successfully treating laminitis are:

  • Prompt diagnosis treatment
  • Removal of cause e.g. treatment of infection
  • Relieve pain inflammation with drugs such as ‘Bute’
  • Formation of a suitable diet for recovery (see notes below)
  • Support the base of the feet – Bar shoes, Pads sand bedding can help
  • Exercise (see notes below)
  • Corrective Farriery

Notes on Diet

Do not starve the horse – if you do the horse will break down its own fats, thereby overloading the liver and actually adding to the problem.

Remove as much concentrate from the horse’s diet as is feasible – hay water maintenance ration is ideal.

Lucerne / alfalfa – a point of debate. Some say it is too rich should not be fed. Others say that it is ideal since it provides good protein along with fibre. My personal opinion is that it is useful if it is already in the horse’s diet. But I would not start feeding lucerne to a laminitic horse that was not used to it.

Notes on Exercise

Gentle walking exercise, preferably on ground with some give, is recommended, to help return a normal blood supply to the laminae. However it is vital that all exercise is ceased, if there is significant movement of the Pedal Bone. Your Vet Farrier will advise you on this.

Outlook for the Patient?

If the condition was noted quickly and treatment carried out; then there is every hope that the horse will make a full recovery. Avoidance of Pedal bone involvement is very important, the horse will grow a new hoof but not so bone.

It is worth noting that having had one bout of laminitis, some horses appear to become more susceptible to further bouts; therefore care vigilance are very important.

Related Trivia

Did you know that …..

  • 60% of a horse’s weight is supported on its front feet
  • The livers of overweight ponies can become ‘clogged’ with fat, reducing its functionality and thereby making the pony more prone to laminitis
  • Laminitis is most common in Shetlands Welsh Mountains
  • Laminitis is least common in Thoroughbreds Arabs
  • Laminitis also occurs in Cattle
For further information on the relationship between nutrition and laminitis please click here

Tamaris Preparation and Recuperation Stables

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