One of the most heartbreaking diseases that can happen to a horse is laminitis.
Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae, which is the "velcro" that surrounds the hoof’s coffin bone and glues it to the hoof wall. Laminitis is most common in both front feet, and can happen in the hind feet as well. Founder is when the “velcro” has failed and the bones of the hoof are displaced, either by sinking, rotating, or sinking medially. It’s important to stress that if you even think your horse is developing laminitis or another hoof condition get your horse’s feet into ice and call your Veterinarian right away.
It’s recommended by the Veterinary community that any horse showing signs of laminitis remain in ice therapy for 24-48 hours straight, or longer, depending on the case. Cold therapy on the hooves and lower legs not only reduces inflammation and pain, it prevents more triggering chemicals in your horse’s body from reaching the hooves causing more damage.
Of course this is only helpful if you know what to look for! Some common signs of laminitis are:
Your horse is tender or sore after being shod.
Walking is uncomfortable, he may hesitate, he may act like he’s on eggshells.
He may not want to turn in his stall, he may pirouette/pivot and put all his weight on the hind end. He may also take tiny baby steps with the front hooves to turn.
Postural changes. Is he standing differently? Some horses look as if their front feet are splayed out in front of them.
Digital pulses that are strong and bounding. The digital pulse is found on the lower leg at the back of the fetlock, your Veterinarian can show you the exact location. It’s best to know your horse’s normal digital pulse, check it every day as you check legs and pick feet. It’s typical for a healthy hoof to have a barely perceptible digital pulse.
The hooves are warm or hot. Again, check every day as you pick feet.
You may even see the hair around the coronary band and pastern start to poke out and be fringy….if the hoof structures are sinking inside, the hairs will be rearranged on the outside.
It’s often very helpful to know a little bit more about your horse's lifestyle and diet, as metabolic issues such as insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease are often factors in laminitis development. A simple blood test yearly (or twice yearly) will tell your Veterinarian about your horse's metabolic state.
Other factors that influence the development of laminitis include:
Your horse’s weight, obese horses are more likely to have laminitis.
The footing your horse exercises on—hard and unforgiving surfaces take their toll on the hoof.
Fevers – a virus or illness that includes a fever often can preclude laminitis.
Exposure to toxins, such as black walnut. This is sometimes in sawdust shavings.
Increased carbohydrate intake, such as the horse that escapes and eats all of the grain from the feed storage area. Spring grass is also high in sugars, as is fall grass that is environmentally stressed.
Size and gender. Ponies are more likely to develop laminitis, as are geldings.
Now—some of these signs are also signs of an abscess or other hoof ailment, which also can be really painful and should be treated right away. If you suspect abscess, work with your Veterinarian to make sure it is just an abscess.
Some of us would rather save few bucks and have our Farrier come out to check for an abscess, which they are very often experienced in. However, your Veterinarian is also versed in this and can eliminate laminitis as a cause. Veterinarians can diagnose diseases and conditions, prescribe appropriate medications, and work into the soft tissue in the hoof. Farriers can't do these things, so don’t wait, don’t wait, don’t wait if you see any of those signs. Call the Veterinarian and start your horse on some cold therapy.
Ice Horse Laminitis Kit
If you do end up with a case of laminitis, you can use the Laminitis Kit to keep your horse's hooves cold—reducing inflammation and providing some pain relief. Buy the laminitis kit here!