Every day veterinarians across the country see hundreds of cases of laminitis, a painful disease which affects the horse's feet. What's especially alarming is that some cases are preventable. In fact, it may be that we are killing our horses with kindness.
Consider that a common cause of laminitis is overfeeding, a management factor that is normally within our control.
By learning more about laminitis, its causes, signs and treatments, you may be able to minimize the risks of laminitis in your horse, or control the long-term damage if it does occur.
Laminitis results from the disruption (constant, intermittent, or short-term) of blood flow to the sensitive and insensitive laminae. These laminae structures within the foot secure the coffin bone (the wedge-shaped bone within the foot) to the hoof wall. Inflammation often permanently weakens the laminae and interferes with the wall/bone bond.
In severe cases, the bone and the hoof wall can separate. In these situations, the coffin bone may rotate within the foot, be displaced downward ("sink") and eventually penetrate the sole. Laminitis can affect one or all feet, but is most often seen in the front feet concurrently.
The terms "laminitis" and "founder" are used interchangeably. However, founder usually refers to a chronic (long-term) condition associated with rotation of the coffin bone. Whereas, acute laminitis refers to symptoms associated with a sudden initial attack, including pain and inflammation of the laminae.
While the exact mechanisms by which the feet are damaged remain a mystery, certain precipitating events can produce laminitis. Although laminitis occurs in the feet, the underlying cause is often a disturbance elsewhere in the horse's body. The causes vary and may include the following:
Factors that seem to increase a horse's susceptibility to laminitis or increase the severity of the condition when it does occur include the following:
Signs of acute laminitis include the following:
The sooner treatment begins, the better the chance for recovery. Treatment will depend on specific circumstances but may include the following:
Many horses that develop laminitis make uneventful recoveries and go on to lead long, useful lives. Unfortunately, others suffer such severe, irreparable damage that they are, for humane reasons, euthanized.
Your equine practitioner can provide you with information about your horse's condition based on radiographs (x-rays) and the animal's response to treatment. Radiographs will show how much rotation of the coffin bone has occurred. This will help you make a decision in the best interest of the horse and help the farrier with the therapeutic shoeing.
Importantly, once a horse has had laminitis, it may be likely to recur. In fact, a number of cases become chronic because the coffin bone has rotated within the foot and because the laminae never regain their original strength. There may also be interference with normal blood flow to the feet, as well as metabolic changes within the horse. Extra care is recommended for any horse that has had laminitis, including: