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Laminitis or Founder in Horses

By: Dr. Philip Johnson

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What to Watch For

The fore feet are much more commonly affected that the hind feet, and the most common clinical presentation includes signs of lameness and stiffness. You may notice the following:

  • Severely affected horses exhibit reluctance or refusal to move when prompted. The pain of laminitis is sufficiently severe as to cause affected horses to prefer to lie down for protracted periods of time.

  • There is a characteristic stance and gait – affected horses tend to attempt to bear more weight on their hind feet to protect the fore feet and, in so doing, tend to draw their center of gravity back over the hind feet. The hind feet occupy an unusually forward position under the body (when standing and when moving). The fore feet tend to be pushed forwards in front of the body such that weight bearing is shifted into the heel area of the affected feet.

  • There is marked reluctance to permit feet to be picked up because the opposite hoof is so painful when bearing weight.

  • There may be soft tissue swelling under the skin of the lower limbs and an apprehensive facial expression (pain).

  • There may be inappetance, colic, and weight loss.

  • In time, the presence of laminitis leads to abnormal growth of the hoof wall. Disturbances in the growth of hoof wall can be appreciated on inspection of the growth rings that run around the hoof wall. In addition to the growth rings, the sole of affected feet tends to be "dropped" (convex) and the laminitic process has widened the white line zone (at the sole). With substantial weight loss, pain, and protracted recumbency, many decubital ulcers (skin erosions) typically develop at the points of bony prominences.

  • It should be noted that severely laminitic horses often appear to be exhibiting neurological signs or signs of abdominal pain (colic). In actual fact, they are in so much pain as a result of inflammation in their feet. Some laminitic horses tend to shake their painful feet – especially those affected in the hind feet.

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