Founder Or Laminitis In Equine Animals

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(Horses, Ponies, Mules, Donkeys, etc.)

The Humane Society of Utah frequently receives complaints from concerned individuals who have witnessed equine animals with overly long, misshapen, up-turned, curved, or dished hooves.  It is commonly described by complainants as the animal appears to be “wearing elf shoes” or “Aladdin-type” slippers.

This hoof condition is either due to poor husbandry or can be related to “founder” or “laminitis.”  Laminitis isn’t just a result of a lack of hoof trimming, but rather a complex disease which can result in pain, destruction and death of inner hoof tissues, and even the eventual rotation of the coffin (pedal) bone within the hoof.  Laminitis may involve one, two, or all four feet, and may be mild to severe in nature.  No matter to what degree an animal is affected, some change is almost inevitable to the internal structure of the animal’s hooves and their future ability to walk or run normally.  Laminitis is painful, crippling, complicated, expensive and difficult to treat.

During the 2010 annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, results of a study were presented which found that about 200,000 horses develop founder or laminitis each year in the United States.  One study stated that about 15% of equines in the U.S. will be affected with this condition during their lifetime.  Another study found that laminitis is the second leading cause of death of horses in the U.S.

Some factors or causes of laminitis include: foot injuries, infections, inflammation, high fever, metabolic disease, genetic predisposition, conformation, diarrhea, colic, a retained placenta, obesity, respiratory infections, over-consumption of high energy foodstuffs (pasture, hay, grain, or pellet-type feed), quick changes in diet, excess dietary starches and sugars, drinking cold water when overheated, being ridden too long on hard surfaces (excessive concussion), gastrointestinal upsets, hormonal abnormalities, prolonged transportation without periods of rest and regular exercise, excessive weight bearing on one limb, and poor farriery.

After the initial injury, laminitis in a horse’s hooves may go through one or more of a series of developmental stages, including heat in the hoof tissues, pain, lameness, abnormal hoof growth, adjustment in the animal’s stance to try to ease associated pain (sawhorse stance), damage to hoof tissues, rotation or eruption of the coffin bone through the sole of the hoof structure, and/or chronic founder.  Equines that suffer this condition are more susceptible to future incidents.

Diagnosis and treatment of an equine animal’s hoof-related problems should be a joint effort between the animal’s owner, their veterinarian, and a qualified farrier.   Diagnosis may require the use of hoof-testers, palpation, radiographs (X-rays), and other specialized materials.

Treatment will depend on the diagnosis, the animal’s health history, the veterinarian’s and farrier’s experience with founder and laminitis and their ability to assist each other in working to alleviate the symptoms, prevent further hoof structure damage, and over time to restore a more satisfactory shape to the hoof, and do whatever is possible to improve the animal’s comfort and ability to move.

Some common treatments include antibiotics to combat infection, anti-endotoxins to reduce bacterial toxicity, anticoagulants, and vasodilators.  A veterinarian may also prescribe medication to treat the animal’s pain.  Common drugs are “bute” (phenylbutazone) or banamine.  Never give medications to any animal without an examination of the animal by your veterinarian and follow any dosage instructions.

A trained and experienced farrier may be able to offer therapeutic treatments according to  your veterinarian’s advice through the use of specialized shoes and shoeing systems to reduce the stress that a long hoof toe places on the hoof structure, and to raise the animal’s heel to reduce stress to the tendons.   Shoeing may utilize a combination of heart bars, supporting putty, or other corrective shoeing methods.

Unfortunately, if the animal’s condition becomes too severe or treatment too expensive, an owner, in consultation with their veterinarian, may elect to have their animal humanely euthanized.

hoof care - HSU