Founder – painful hooves on pasture.
Laminitis, commonly known as founder is an extremely painful and potentially life threatening condition in equids where the lamina (layer that bonds the hoof to the coffin bone in the foot) becomes inflammed. It’s extremely painful because inflammed tissue swells, but in a hoof there is no place for the swelling to go causing increased pressure which limits blood flow causing further injury. It can affect any horse, of any age or sex, at any time of the year although spring and summer are most common. If not treated, the coffin bone can separate from the hoof wall and rotate through the bottom of the foot. The level of pain is not indicative of severity.
What are the indications of laminitis?
A horse that is having a laminitis episode will often stand tented out trying to remove the weight off the front feet or be quite reluctant to move. They may have warm hooves and coronary bands, bounding digital pulses and often their heart rate is elevated. Its better to treat laminitis as an emergency as initial treatment is critical to reducing the likelihood of complications such as coffin bone rotation. Low grade re-current symptoms include growth rings on the hoof wall, mis-shapen hoof wall often with low compacted heels, recurrent foot abscesses or brittle hooves, sore feet and a shortened gait that doesn’t seem to improve.
What causes laminitis?
– excessive grain intake or accidental grain overload.
– exessive or inappropriate administration of certain drugs.
– animals that have been diagnosed with PPID (Cushings) or Equine Metabolic Syndrome.
– Excessive weight bearing on a single limb due to injury on the opposing limb.
How does diet impact laminitis?
Lush pasture and laminitis episodes go hand in hand in suseptible horses. In grasses it’s the water soluble carbohydrates that trigger dietary induced laminits while in grain it’s the high levels of starch. Both the starch and the carbohydrates have the exact same effect.
Certain grass species and different grain types will have differing amounts of the triggering components. To complicate things further, live grass will have different amounts of carbohydrates based on season and time of day. For this reason, grass in the winter season is less potent than spring and summer grass. Also grass contains less carbohydrates at night then it does during the day when photosynthesis is active.
Knowing all of this is great for your ‘suseptible’ horses, but once a horse has suffered a laminitic episode it is best to feed just hay for life, no fresh grass. If supplementation is required to keep weight on horses there are special supplementary diets which have low carbohydrate and starch concentrations and increased fat levels to help with weight gain but reduce the risk of another laminitic episode.
Laminitis is a lifelong condition which can be managed and improved but not necessarily cured. The following are basic managment strategies that minimize episodes and help equids suffering from laminitis live a comfortable life.
1. Managing the diet – feed a forage based hay diet of a mixture of mature grasses. High fiber diets are also good along with soaking hay to leach the carbohydrates. Manage grazing very carefully! Anything that looks lush and lovely will not help your horse, fresh spring grass and grass that is actively growing/photosynthesising are the worst. Avoid bran, due to its high phosphorus levels, feeding over a long period of time will result in lower levels of calcium which is important for hoof health. Always have quality mineral and vitamin blocks available for supplementation. There are also special supplements that target hoof health that may be beneficial. Feeding little amounts more often is also helpful, so hay nets may be a useful aid.
2. Body weight – overweight horses are more prone to laminitic episodes along with an increase in pressure on already sore feet. Always try maintain your horse in ideal body condition which means reducing crusty necks, fat pads behind the shoulders and in the rump area. If you are unsure of your horses conformation and ideal weight and where they may be hiding their fat deposits, contact your local veterinarian to help. Exercise (as long as they aren’t suffering in a current laminitic episode) is the best way to reduce excess weight safely. Never starve an overweight horse as they can develop a life threatening condition called hyperlipaemia.
3. Hoof care – supplements that target hoof health and regular corrective trimming can drastically increase the comfort and well being and reduce laminitic episodes. Some horses will need special shoes with pads to help provide comfort until the hoof can be otherwise managed.
4. Health – because many health conditions can lead to laminitis, keep in good relation with your veterinarian to properly manage and understand risk factors for the many conditions that can lead to laminitis.
5. Exercise and work – avoid concussion and excessive work on hard surfaces such as hard packed roads and pavement.
6. Test for PPID and/or Equine Metabolic Syndrome – these conditions predispose to laminitis and controlling them can reduce laminitis episodes and improve hoof health in general. If you are wondering if your horse may have these, give your vet a call and they can go over how the tests are done.
If you have any further questions or concerns about laminitis and your horse, contact your local veterinarian and help your horse or pony live a long comfortable life. No hoof, no horse.
– Dr. Stacey