Laminitis is sometimes called Founder. When the laminae in the hoof of horses, ponies, and donkeys swells the animal is said to have Laminitis. Concussive forces to the hoof can cause Laminitis in horses although the disease can also result through a decrease in blood supply and flow to the laminae. This leads to ischemia, necrosis, and edema of the laminae. What causes a decrease in the flow of blood in this way is still not yet known however, a number of pathophysiologic mechanisms have been suggested.

Laminitis, irrespective of the precise cause, is a really debilitating disease that can have a very detrimental effect on the animal. For the owner it results in frustration, expense, and is demanding when it comes to treatment. Thankfully, our knowledge about the disease is expanding. With this growth in knowledge comes the possibility for effective treatment. Indeed, treatment has progressed from what it was a few short years ago. Nevertheless, much about Laminitis in horses is yet to be learned.

Some horses can be predisposed to Laminitis. Those that are fed an improper diet top the list. It has been known for some time that horses that consume too much grain and/or lush green grass rich in clover are more susceptible to developing Laminitis. Likewise, horses whose diet is changed suddenly to a diet that is high in energy are also more at risk.

Other factors that predispose horses to Laminitis include systemic illness such as:

  • Intestinal Inflammation

  • Obstructions of the Small Intestine

  • Colitis

  • Diarrhea

  • Uterine Infection

  • Septicemia

  • Toxemia

Further contributing factors include:

  • Excessive weight on one leg

  • Working unshod horses

  • Working horses on hard surfaces

  • Weight gain

  • Over trimming of hooves

  • Certain medications

What To Look For

Laminitis in horses presents hooves that are distorted in their appearance. Founder rings on the wall of the hoof will also be discernible, and they will have overgrown heels, flat soles, and long toes.

Laminitis in horses leads to lameness that can be either mild to severe. It is usually found in the front feet rather than in the back feet simply because horses support roughly sixty percent of their total body weight on their front legs. The degree or severity of the lameness is determined using Obel grades ranging from one to four. If the horse has grade one Laminitis they will be seen to alternate their weight between their front feet repeatedly. Horses that have grade two Laminitis or higher show an affected gait as they attempt to carry more weight on their back limbs.

Because of the pain associated with Laminitis in horses it is characteristic of affected horses to attempt to walk their heels and avoid pressure to the toes. They are reluctant to move around due to the pain and discomfort. Affected horses will also have a stronger arterial pulse in the front feet as well as experiencing swelling and heat.

Diagnosing Laminitis in Horses

Lateral radiographs of the affected limb are critical in making a diagnosis and for determining the prognosis of the animal.

Treating Laminitis in Horses

Successful treatment hinges a lot on discovering the cause of the Laminitis. Initially treatment can vary depending upon the causes. Treating Laminitis might involve IV Fluid Therapy, Anti-inflammatory drugs, Systemic Antimicrobials, and Mineral Oil.

The goal of treatment is to lessen or reduce the swelling in the hoof as well as to lessen the pain the animal experiences. To this end, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are administered. Another major goal in treatment is to improve or increase the blood supply to the laminae and there are a number of drugs that are used for this purpose.

Frog support is very important as part of the treatment process and this is achieved through the use of frog support devices or special shoes. It is advisable that the animal is kept in the stable and on a soft bedding of 10cm or more. If the horse has passed the initial stages of Laminitis special care of the foot will be required. Proper trimming and shoeing is.

Some biotin supplements have been known to promote and encourage faster tissue growth which is beneficial to the successful treatment of Laminitis. Because the horse is recumbent for much of each day skin abrasions and ulcers can develop. These must be addressed without delay.

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