We made the 720 mile drive from Florida to Kentucky and my ponies were gazing longingly at the rich green grass surrounding them everywhere as we arrived on our farm with fields of lushness. After a season in Florida where their sandy paddock was enriched with flakes of coastal hay three times daily, their joy was short lived. I had dug out the muzzles and had their grazing halters ready as we unloaded them. Dusty was pretty ingenious as he managed to swill some long blades of grass through the small hole at the base of his muzzle, sucking some Kentucky bluegrass like spaghetti. And Buddy was just in shock, “how could you do this to us?” But it is for their own good as the following tips on what to watch for in laminitis and founder, which can strike after a rainy spring season with the first cutting still flourishing.
Laminitis is inflammation and loosening of the connection between the hoof capsule and the coffin bone. Founder is when the coffin bone has changed position relative to the hoof capsule – rotation or sinking. The signs and symptoms vary greatly depending on the severity of the laminitis.
Symptoms of Laminitis and Founder
From least to most severe they include:
- Less spontaneous activity
- Less spontaneous trotting/cantering
- Reluctance to turn (puts more weight on one foot or refuses to cross legs over)
- Reluctance to move forward when led
- Lying down more than normal (when pain severe, stays down most of the time)
- Standing with the front feet further in front of the body than normal and the hind feet furtherunder the body than normal
- Stiffness in the shoulder muscles
- Buckling at the knee
- Refusal to move
- Hind end muscles tightly bunched up (shifting most of their weight to the hindquarters)
Examination of the feet may show (usually worst in front feet):
- Feet feel warmer/hotter than usual
- pulses in the arteries running over the sesamoid bones at the back of the ankle are very strong and pounding
- Puffiness or redness at the coronary band
- Pain on sole pressure about 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch in front of the point of the frog
- A bruised appearance to the sole
- Red or black discoloration of the white line
- Widening of the white line
- Appearance of rings on the feet that are close together at the toe but get progressively wider over the quarters and heels
- Penetration of the coffin bone through the sole
Laminitis or founder is no longer the death sentence is was just ten years ago. There is a lot you can do as soon as you think your horse may have laminitis.
- Call your veterinarian
- Remove all sources of excess carbohydrates (sweet feed, "treats", grass, all feeds not guaranteed less than 10% sugar/starch)
- Provide a safe place for your horse with access to water and food, supportive footing such as deep sand, and where other horses can't "force" movement
- "Cool" feet by cold hosing (or standing in cold running water if available)
- Soak hay in warm water for 1/2 hour or cold water for 1 hour then drain to remove water soluble sugars
Even if the cause of laminitis is not endocrinopathic (hormonal/metabolic) related, taking the above measures can help lessen inflammation and start your horse toward recovery sooner.