Laminitis & Founder

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Bayard Fitzpatrick
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(a layman's guide)

Painful           Expensive           Crippling           Deadly

Laminitis is the malfunction of the blood supply to a horse's hooves. Blood is diverted from the horse's hooves causing the death of living tissue. Founder is the word used to describe the mechanical result of laminitis. Living tissue holds in place and supports the bones in the horse's hooves and thus the leg bones and the weight of the horse himself. If that tissue dies (and it will if it looses its blood supply), the bones can and will, without proper treatment, rotate and/or sink through the bottom of the horse's hooves.

How do you identify laminitis?
A horse suffering from laminitis is in excruciating pain and shows all the classic pain symptoms--accelerated heart rate, shallow respiration, sweating, unwillingness to move, lying down for long periods of time, distressed and anxious expression. There is a typical "founder stance" in which all 4 feet are forward of their normal position. The horse, in an attempt to shift the weight off of the front feet which are usually more severely affected in the early stages, will tuck his hind feet as far forward under his body as he can while standing. The head is low and the back is arched. In addition, there will be excessive heat and stronger and more easily felt pounding of the pulse at the hoof.

Now that you have identified laminitis, what do you do?
Call your vet and your farrier immediately when you suspect laminitis!

The veterinarian will usually administer antihistamines, pain killers, drugs to reduce heat and swelling, and drugs to attempt to restore circulation to the feet. He should take x-rays so that he and the farrier can examine them and the animal to determine the best course of treatment.

If this is anything more than a mild case, you should be prepared for extreme trauma to your heart strings and your purse strings. Doing nothing condemns your animal to either being a permanent cripple or to death. This is not a wait and see what happens situation.

Frequently a decision needs to be made as to the level of commitment to the animal.
Besides initial emergency care and treatment by the farrier and vet, most horses will require frequent farrier work and periodic veterinary attention along with long term daily management by the horse owner. There is also involved with this devastating disease sole bruises, abscesses, and hoof wall distortion.

Even the best vet & farrier care and dedicated horse owner care cannot guarantee results. Sometimes the horse is not able to respond. Euthanasia (putting the horse to sleep) may be the kindest thing you can do for your horse. This may be the advice given to you by your farrier and vet at the beginning or later in the course of treatment, but it is ultimately your decision to make.

Some farriers choose not to work on founder cases because of the emotional stress and commitment on their part necessary to save the animal.

Laminitis is the second leading cause of death to horses. Therefore prevention is essential.

How can I prevent laminitis in the first place?
Before you can talk intelligently about prevention, you need to be aware of the major causes of laminitis.

Excessive amounts of grain.
Ingestion of lush green pasture. Especially common in the spring and fall.
Obesity. Especially horses showing thick hard crests on their necks.
Cold water given to a hot horse.
Retained placenta or afterbirth (foaling founder).
Road founder (walking or running long distances on hard surfaces).
Standing or transportation founder (horses confined for long periods of time).
Drug founder.

Anything, physical or emotional, that causes stress or shock to a horse's system can result in laminitis and founder. There are many who will tell you that as a rule of thumb, horses that are used, do not founder. That is to say that horses that are exercised sensibly on a regular basis are unlikely to founder.

Frequently a horse will suffer a mild case of laminitis which will go undiagnosed or even unnoticed by the horse owner. The horse may appear to be a little off, a little hesitant to really go forward and work up to his normal level, but there is nothing you can put your finger on. In these cases, especially if the horse is obese or on green pasture, you should consider mild founder. Take him off the grass, take him off alfalfa and grain and you may have very well prevented a serious case of founder.

In conclusion, there is a positive side to laminitis and founder. By and large it can be prevented by the horse owners making themselves become aware of the dangers and monitoring their horses closely.

Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.