What is Founder?
The way founder occurs is due to a lack of blood flow in the laminae which produces swelling and inflammation in the hoof. Over time, the cells of the laminae are damaged because of the lack of oxygen and nutrients in the blood. If you do not catch the problem right away in the early stages of founder, the laminae start to die and cause even more problems and pain. When the laminae die, the pedal bone no longer has support to hold the weight of your horse. Sometimes the pedal bone can protrude through the sole, resulting in an irreversible case of lameness and excruciating pain.
Founder (laminitis) in horses is a serious condition of the foot caused by the pedal bone rotating and pointing towards the horse’s sole. It is also one of the most common reasons for disability and lameness in ponies and horses. This is extremely painful and in some cases it may be necessary to euthanize.
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Symptoms of Founder in Horses
Founder can be found in any of your horse’s feet but it is most often reported in the front. Some of the most common signs of founder are:
- Sudden lameness
- Reluctance to walk or move
- Pulse felt in the foot
- Alternating weight from leg to leg
- Does not want to lift, bend, or raise a leg
- Warm foot
- Laying down more often
- Obvious pain when standing or moving
- Movement or rotation of pedal bone
- Standing with front legs out in front of their body
- Standing with both front and rear legs under their body
- Acute founder is a sudden breakdown of the attachment between the hoof and the laminae (coffin bone)
- Chronic founder is the continuation of acute laminitis past 72 hours
- Support-limb founder happens to the healthy foot that has to bear the weight of an injured foot
Causes of Founder in Horses
One of the leading causes of founder is from obesity, but there are other suspected causes as well, which are:
- Feeding your horse a large amount of soluble carbohydrates causes an overload of undigested sugars and starches
- High fever or illness causing equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)
- Severe cases of colic
- Stress such as travelling, foaling, or changes in the environment
- Infections such as severe bacterial infections can cause blood poisoning (toxemia) and founder
- Working too fast or hard for a long period of time
- Cushing’s disease is a pituitary gland disease that causes increased hunger, thirst, sweating, and weight loss
- Black walnut shavings in bedding
Diagnosis of Founder in Horses
As with any veterinary visit, you should be prepared to tell the veterinarian your horse’s medical and vaccination history. This will preclude a comprehensive physical examination including blood pressure, body temperature, weight, height, temperament, body condition grade, heart and respiration rates, and behavior. A lameness examination will be conducted as well which include a standing exam to check your horse’s appearance and conformation, palpation of certain areas for pain, heat, and inflammation. A static flexion will be done to check range of motion. The veterinarian will then ask you to trot your horse to observe the muscles and joints in motion. A nerve block injection may be done to numb the area before the veterinarian has you trot your horse again to see if the lameness is relieved. This may not be necessary because it is usually obvious to the veterinarian by now if your horse has laminitis.
A hoof testing is done next to put pressure on certain areas of the foot to find the exact cause and location. This procedure is done by pulling and pushing on the hoof with a special tool and then looking at all four of the hooves to determine how severe the laminitis is.
The diagnostic tests needed include an endogenous ACTH, serum glucose and insulin levels, complete blood count, chemistry panel, bacterial and fungal culture, and packed cell volume (PCV). In addition, the veterinarian will need to get x-rays of the feet to check the alignment of the coffin bone and may do an ultrasound as well for a more detailed view.
Treatment of Founder in Horses
Treatment of founder depends on the cause. The underlying problem has to be treated at the same time to ensure success.
The veterinarian will administer a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve pain and inflammation. Thyroid hormone supplements will be given if your horse is found to have Cushing’s disease.
Heel Wedge Cuffs or Foam Supports
Sole putty is used from the heels to the tip of the frog to provide frog support.
The best way to do this is by immersing your horse’s foot in ice water for approximately 72 hours. You have to consistently replace the ice to keep the foot below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Complete Stall Rest
You will need to keep your horse in a small and private area with enough bedding to keep support on the frog. The veterinarian usually suggests this for at least one week.
The options for surgical repair are deep digital flexor tenotomy or a hoof wall resection.
Recovery of Founder in Horses
The prognosis for founder in horses is guarded. While some horses are able to withstand the treatment or heal on their own, others may be in constant pain and may need to be euthanized.
Founder Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Sudden lamness. Was running around the paddock in the herd. No heat in hooves, picks up all 4 feet, will walk. No sign of pain. Appears to be near hind leg. Possible abcess as there is a split in the hoof wall
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