Laminitis & Founder

Founder...this a dreaded word for horse owners and for good reason, as it is one of the main causes of equine death.  Founder is often interchanged with laminitis and the term has become generic.  Laminitis, however, refers to the inflammation of the sensitive lamina within the hoof whereas founder is the end result of the inflammation when the structure begins to fail.  Please note that laminitis is not a disease but a response to triggering factors.  There are many laminitis triggers from the horse eating over-rich foods to Metabolic problems such as Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance. 

A laminitic episode can be from mild to catastrophic.  Hoof design is complex with respect to blood function.  Blood not only supplies oxygen and nutrients to tissues, but also serves to remove waste, regulate body temperature and provide normal hydraulic pressure.  The hoof contains a very complex system of blood vessels and any disruption can cause failure in the tissues.  The keratinous part of the hoof and the pedal bone can actually detach from the sensitive tissues as they fail structurally.   

What can we do to avoid laminitis?  A simple answer is to monitor and restrict food intake, but it can be as complex as performing appropriate blood testing should your horse have metabolic issues.

During the laminitic episode  and your veterinarian has been contacted, your main goal at this stage is to stabilize the hoof as best as you can while you wait for medical attention by supporting the sole with Styrofoam pads, cotton, soft putty or sponges.  The point is to fill any voids under the foot into which the foot can sink.  After placing one of these types of packing material under the hoof, you will need to wrap the hoof to hold it in place.  Please don’t wrap anything too tightly around the coronary band as this could restrict blood flow.  Too much heat at the hoof can also increase the change of further tissue damage, so consider keeping the horse’s legs and hooves cool by placing ice packs or leg cooling wraps around the lower leg. 

Can a horse recover from founder?  The road to recovery after a serious bout of laminitis is a rocky one.  If your horse is clearly more mobile and comfortable after shoeing, this is a sign that the chosen therapeutic technique is working.  Recovery is unpredictable but generally the prognosis is directly proportional to the extent of displacement of the distal phalanx and the resultant lamellar pathology that occurs.

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