What does it mean when a horse Founders?

Young girl in barn taking care of horse and cleaning hooves with special brush

Foundering is a common term used in the equine world, and it refers to a debilitating condition that affects horses’ feet. Foundering is a term used interchangeably with laminitis, and it refers to the inflammation and damage of the laminae that hold the horse’s hoof to the pedal bone. The condition can be very painful for horses and can result in permanent damage, lameness, and even euthanasia. In this article, we will discuss what causes foundering in horses, how it can be detected, and what treatments are available.

Laminitis can occur in horses of any age, breed, or sex. However, it is most commonly seen in middle-aged horses and ponies. The condition is often associated with obesity, overfeeding, and a lack of exercise. Horses that are kept on lush pastures or are fed high-grain diets are also at increased risk of developing laminitis. Additionally, horses that suffer from certain diseases, such as Cushing’s disease or equine metabolic syndrome, are also at higher risk of developing laminitis.

The exact cause of laminitis is not fully understood. However, it is thought to be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

Overfeeding or sudden changes in diet – Horses that are overfed or that are fed a diet that is high in carbohydrates, such as grains, are at higher risk of developing laminitis. Sudden changes in diet can also trigger the condition.

Endotoxemia – This is a condition that occurs when toxins are released into the bloodstream. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacterial infections and colic. Endotoxemia can cause damage to the blood vessels in the horse’s hoof, leading to laminitis.

Trauma – Trauma to the horse’s foot, such as from a sharp object or a hard surface, can cause laminitis.

Hormonal imbalances – Certain hormonal imbalances, such as those associated with Cushing’s disease or equine metabolic syndrome, can increase the risk of laminitis.

Supporting limb laminitis – This is a condition that occurs in horses that have been lame on one leg for an extended period. The lameness puts extra weight on the opposite leg, which can cause laminitis in the supporting leg.

Laminitis can be a severe condition that can progress quickly, so it is essential to know the signs and symptoms. Some of the common signs of laminitis include:

Lameness – The horse may be reluctant to move or walk and may favor one foot over the other.

Heat in the feet – The hooves may feel hot to the touch.

Increased pulse in the feet – You may be able to feel an increased pulse in the horse’s fetlock or pastern.

Standing with the front feet forward – Horses with laminitis may stand with their front feet out in front of them to take weight off their sore feet.

Shifting weight – The horse may shift its weight from one foot to the other, trying to find a more comfortable position.

Stiffness – The horse may appear stiff, particularly when turning.

Decreased appetite – The horse may be less interested in food than usual.

If you suspect that your horse has laminitis, it is essential to contact your veterinarian immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent permanent damage to the horse’s feet and reduce the risk of complications.

Once a veterinarian has diagnosed a horse with laminitis, they will develop a treatment plan based on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, the horse may need to be confined to a stall and fed a low-carbohydrate diet. Pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with the condition.

In more severe cases of laminitis, the horse may need to be hospitalized for several days. During this time, the horse will be kept in a stall with a deep bed of shavings or sand to help support its feet. The horse may also receive pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as other medications to help improve blood flow to the feet.

In some cases, the veterinarian may need to remove the horse’s shoes to allow the hoof to expand and relieve pressure on the laminae. The horse may also need to have its feet trimmed to reduce pressure on the affected areas. If there is significant damage to the hoof, the veterinarian may need to apply special shoes or pads to support the horse’s feet.

In severe cases of laminitis, the horse may need to undergo surgery to remove part of the pedal bone or to realign the bone to relieve pressure on the laminae. However, surgery is typically reserved for horses that have severe or chronic laminitis and is not commonly performed.

In addition to medical treatment, the veterinarian may also recommend changes to the horse’s diet and exercise regimen. Horses with laminitis should be fed a low-carbohydrate diet to reduce the risk of further inflammation. They should also be provided with plenty of fresh water and access to hay or other high-fiber feed.

Exercise is also important for horses with laminitis, but it must be carefully managed. Walking or hand grazing for short periods can help improve circulation to the feet and promote healing. However, the horse should not be allowed to run or engage in strenuous activity until it has fully recovered.

Finally, the veterinarian will also provide guidance on how to prevent laminitis from occurring in the future. This may include recommendations on diet, exercise, and management practices, such as avoiding overfeeding, keeping the horse at a healthy weight, and limiting access to lush pastures. Regular check-ups with the veterinarian can also help identify any early signs of laminitis and prevent the condition from progressing.