Laminitis in horses (also know as horse founder) is becoming a very common condition these days, mostly due to the lush pastures that more and more horses and ponies are being grazed on.
Also many stable kept horses are given large amounts of grain in one feeding and then left for many hours with nothing in their stomach. This is also very disruptive to the digestive system and can contribute to laminitis.
Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive structures in the hoof called the lamellae. The lamellae are the means by which the coffin bone is held tight within the hoof capsule. When viewing the sole of a healthy hoof you can tell how good the connection is by looking at the white line. If the white line is tight (narrow in width) then there is a strong connection. If the white line is stretched then the connection is compromised - see diagrams below. Untreated laminitis can lead to Founder which is where the bone rotates within the hoof capsule and sometimes results in the bone penetrating the sole.
Laminitis in horses is referred to as acute when it is in the early stages and chronic when it has been present for a long time.
The photo to the left shows a slice through the corium and laminae - the corium is on the bottom side of the photo and the laminae on the top. The corium was attached to the coffin bone and the laminae connect the coffin bone to the hoof wall.
Laminitis in horses occurs when the lamellae become inflamed and produce a secretion full of toxins which weakens the connection between the coffin bone and the hoof wall. This leads to a stretched white line which is visible when looking at the sole of a horse with chronic laminitis.
The video below shows laminitis in action over a four week time period. Notice how the distance between the hoof wall and the coffin bone gets longer and also how the coffin bone sinks down within the capsule.
In the diagram below the white line is stretched at the toe:
Here you can see how the connection with the coffin bone has weakened and rotation of the coffin bone has occurred.
The hoof above left, shows a stretched white line (indicated by the red markings) and the xray on the right shows how the coffin bone has rotated away from the hoof wall (marked in red) - the bottom green line is longer than the top one.
These two photos show the hoof trying to heal itself by growing in a tighter connection at the top. The difference in the hoof wall angle (highlighted in red) is a clear indication of rotation of the coffin bone.
The hoof in the photo on the left also has white line disease, which is common when laminitis is left untreated for extended periods of time.
Laminitis is very painful and debilitating so preventing it is very important. This is achieved by first looking at your horse's lifestyle so that you can identify potential triggers and remove them.
If grain is the trigger:
If the trigger is mechanical:
Other ways to help:
Once you have addressed all the laminitis triggers (ie removed the cause) you can start to deal with the recovery. It is crucial to get a proper trim which will allow the hoof to start healing and growing in a tight connection between the coffin bone and hoof wall.
Often when separation occurs the toes become too long which puts even more strain on the already weak laminar connection. Long toes delay breakover (the point at which the hoof leaves the ground) which in turn rips the wall further away from the coffin bone - compare it to when your nail is bent back and pulled away from the nail bed and imagine how painful it is to the horse who has to also bear weight on it. It is therefore, very important to bring the toes back to the correct location to relieve the strain. See article on the Toe Rocker for more information on where this should be.
High heels also add to the problem as they increase the mechanical stress on the laminar connection. They prevent the frog from being weightbearing which means that the hoof wall has to take even more weight.
To make the horse more comfortable, pads or boots may be used - see Pete Ramey's article on the benefits of boots and pads. However, bear in mind that the coffin bone needs to stay close to ground parallel (3-5 degrees depending on the trim method used) so the pads should not raise the heels. Rubber mats are also very useful as they have some give to them. Avoid deep straw or shavings beds (unless the horse is lying down a lot) as these allow the toe to sink (effectively raising the heels) which in turn puts pressure on the lamellae.
Pete Ramey also has an very informative article on laminitis. Click here to read it.
For more information on grass and it's role in laminitis visit Katie Watts' Safer Grass website.
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Pete Ramey has an in-depth article on laminitis click here to read it.
Reversing distal descent is another article I highly recommend reading click here.