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Laminitis Can Strike All Breeds of Horses!

Please help me understand what laminitis (founder) is! It was devastating to watch a beautiful horse like Barbaro succumb to this disease last year, and frustrating to know that the best care in the world couldn’t prevent it. Didn’t Secretariat, another famous racehorse, also develop laminitis?  From: Curious

laminitis.jpgLaminitis can strike horses of any breed, age, and value, including multi-million dollar racing stallions like the two you mention. The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) report for the year 2000 said 13% of all horse operations had a horse with laminitis in the previous year and 4.7% of these died or were euthanized. That makes laminitis second only to colic as a leading killer of horses.

To understand this disease, I’ll review a little anatomy first. Inside the horse’s hoof is a bone called the coffin bone. It’s attached to the hoof by tiny interlocking fingers, or laminae. A complex cascade of events occurs during laminitis, but the key events are inflammation of these laminae (therefore the name laminitis), their death and the death of cells around them. When these tissues die, the coffin bone is no longer properly supported in the hoof. Then, forces from bearing weight on the ground as well as tendons pulling upward on the bone can cause it to rotate or sink in the hoof. When mechanical damage like this occurs, the horse is said to have “foundered.”

According to Rustin Moore, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, who shared his research at the most recent Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium held January 2007 in Louisville, KY, laminitis often occurs because of other conditions in the body, such as:

  • Pasture (carbohydrate) overload
  • Grain overload
  • Colic
  • Endotoxins in the blood
  • Uterine infection or retained placenta
  • Metabolic disturbances such as insulin resistance
  • Excess weight-bearing on a supporting limb (opposite a limb with a severe injury)
  • Infection of the blood (septicemia)
  • Infection of the lungs
  • Enterocolitis (inflammation of the small intestine and colon)

Diagnosing laminitis isn’t difficult, as most horses demonstrate very characteristic signs of the disease:

  • Shifting of weight from foot to foot
  • Slight stiffness of gait
  • Reluctance to move
  • Classic founder stance: all four feet forward, so hind feet carry more weight
  • Warm feet and bounding digital pulse
  • Sweating, high heart and respiratory rates
  • Lying down and refusing to get up

The true challenge to laminitis is treating it. Because there are so many causes and such a complex cascade of events leading to its development, no one treatment works all of the time for every horse. Each case must be handled individually. The goal of treatment is to remove or treat the primary cause, stop the cascade of events, provide mechanical support to the foot, and of course, reduce the inflammation and pain. It us unclear why some horses respond to treatment more successfully than others but hopefully the ongoing research will provide some answers.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Diseases and Conditions, Lameness, Skin, Coat & Hooves

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