Are your horses at risk for foundering?
By Tonya Ouellette
For those of you who are looking to put that extra weight onto your horse coming into winter, you may want to ask yourself this question, Is my horse at risk for foundering?
The terms laminitis and founder are often used together, and this is not correct. Laminitis more often than not, leads to founder. Laminitis is an infection or inflammation of the lamina, or tissue that connects the coffin bone to the hoof wall. As the layers of the hoof wall separate, this causes pain in the tissues underneath the hoof wall.
Founder occurs when the bond between the tissue separates as the lamina die. This causes the attachment of the coffin bone to the hoof to break down, sink, and even rotate; This damages the arteries and veins and destroys the tissues around the bone. In extreme cases the coffin bone will rotate downwards and penetrate the sole of the hoof.
We usually find the front feet to be affected due to the fact that they support more than half of their body weight.
What are signs of laminitis and founder?
It is far easier to prevent laminitis and founder than to treat the occurrence. Even aggressive treatment can fail and require the horse to be euthanized. Early symptoms are often subtle. The horse may be stiff in the forelegs. Many times you will find them standing in the “founder stance” with their hind legs well up beneath their body to take as much of the weight possible, while the front legs are forward with the weight resting on the heel. Your horse will be reluctant to walk, due to the pain. If all four feet are affected, your horse may try to lie down and NOT want to get back up.
Other symptoms can include heavy breathing, hot feet, and a pounding pulse over the fetlock joint.
Each attack of acute laminitis can leave a ring formation on the hoof, if you notice a horse with multiple rings; it’s very likely they have suffered a chronic foundering. You may also notice a “seedy toe”, which is a separation of the hoof wall from the lamina, if this is left untrimmed, the hoof wall will overgrow to form a protective covering. In advanced stages you may also see the coronary band ooze blood or serum.
So this is all some scary stuff huh! There are numerous causes for this condition to happen and it’s important to be aware of these to keep your horses SAFE!
Eating too much grain! Specifically those that are rich in carbohydrates. Lush pasture ( even lawn clippings) These changes release bacterial toxins into the bloodstream, which disrupt normal blood flow to the hoof. This is the most common cause we see in laminitis.
Drinking large amounts of water when overheated.
Having insulin resistance. Horses with this condition are prone to laminitis.
Exposure to black walnut shavings
Prolonged use of corticosteroids
Stress, including colic
High fever or illness. Any time they have a metabolic disturbance, we find the potential for this to cause laminitis.
Risk factors would be seen in heavier breeds of horses, such as drafts, horses that are overweight, horses that are on a high grain diet.
If you suspect that your horse is developing laminitis, it is important to act right away! Those few hours can make a significant difference in the outcome of your treatment. Call your vet and follow his/her instructions. Take your horse off the pasture immediately and make sure that they have no access to ANY grass. Feel for heat in your horse’s feet. If possible, direct spray of cold water of the affected feet will help to reduce inflammation. Once the vet arrives, he/she will be able to assess and start treatment to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Treatment for laminitis will vary according to the severity of the condition but it can include: encouraging the horse to lie down to relieve pressure. Imposing dietary restrictions to prevent overeating and obesity. Administration of pain killers and/or anti-inflammatory. Opening and draining any abcesses that may develop.
Diet, Diet, Diet!! Don’t make changes overnight! Stay away from those carbohydrates, and monitor the amounts of grain you are feeding. If you horse is on the heavy side to begin with, you are not doing him a favor giving him that extra feeding. It’s a hard thing for us to do, but in the long run, well worth it to keep our equine friends safe and healthy!