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Laminitis or Founder in Horses

By: Dr. Philip Johnson

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Laminitis is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms. The physical examination may show marked prominence of the digital arterial pulses and further evidence of pain, such as elevated heart rate and elevated respiratory rate. If the disease has been present for a considerable period of time, your veterinarian may notice abnormal growth of the hoof capsule, dropped sole, and a widened white line zone.

The diagnosis of laminitis is usually established by the following criteria:

  • Typical clinical signs (symptoms)

  • Appropriate clinical setting (one might expect laminitis to arise during treatment of some diseases – such as diarrhea)

  • Painful reaction to hoof testers at toe. Application of pressure using "hoof testers" at the toe of the laminitic hoof will often (but not always) elicit a painful reaction. In some cases, an abscess develops in the affected lamellae and might drain out through the sole or drain through the coronary band.

  • Increased prominence of digital arterial pulses

  • Radiography, although laminitis may be present without ANY radiographic abnormalities. It is strongly recommended that a radiographic examination of the affected feet should be undertaken as soon as possible when laminitis is suspected. In some cases during the early stages of laminitis, there are no abnormalities evident on radiography.

    However, radiography is advocated because it is typically important to:

  • Determine whether this new pain represents a new event or reactivation of a preceding laminitic attack (chronic laminitis)

  • Establish a baseline upon which the effects of treatment can be judged (is it getting better or worse or staying the same)

  • Help assess the prognosis – the more severe changes (based on radiography) tend to be associated with a poorer prognosis.

  • Assist in the direction of treatment strategies that include special trimming, farriery, and removal of the hoof wall at specific locations

    It is not usually necessary to anesthetize the affected hoof in order to make the diagnosis. Obviation of pain may result in severe damage (new or further separation of the coffin bone from the lining of the hoof wall) and exacerbation of lameness if the horse is exercised excessively. Although it is severe, the pain actually "helps" to prevent the affected horse from causing further damage to compromised lamellae.

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