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Laminitis & Founder Info

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Laminitis and Founder are often referred to as the same thing. This is incorrect, although laminitis frequently leads to founder. Laminitis is an infection of the laminae, or tissue that connects the coffin bone to the hoof wall. It is a disease that causes the delamination or separation of a horse's hoof. As the layers of the hoof wall separate, the horse will have extreme pain in the sensitive tissues underneath the hoof wall. (These sensitive laminae are the living tissues that connect with the insensitive laminae to form a strong and durable bond between the hoof wall and the coffin bone.)

Founder occurs when the bond between these tissues fail as the laminae die. This causes the attachment of the coffin bone to the hoof to break down, damaging arteries and veins and crushing the remaining living tissues around the coffin bone. In extreme cases, as the weight of the horse bears down on the coffin bone, it will rotate downwards and through the sole of the hoof to the ground. These cases are referred to as the sinkers in foundered horses.

Laminitis is usually in the horse's front feet, but can affect the back feet as well. The front feet bear more weight ( close to 60%) and that is why they are often affected more than the hind (see image below).


Laminitis and founder are much easier to prevent than to treat. Treatment can be very difficult, expensive and time consuming. Even worse than that, sometimes the most aggressive treatment may end in failure, requiring the horse to be euthanized.

The early symptoms of laminitis can often be very subtle, making it hard to detect sometimes. The horse may just appear to be slightly stiff in the front end. Once laminitis has set in though, the horse will typically stand in the "founder stance" with hind legs well up under the body carrying as much weight as possible, and the front legs placed forward with the weight on the heel. They will usually be reluctant to walk, due to the intense pain. They will turn round by leaning back and pivoting around on the rear legs and placing their front legs as far forward as possible. Remember though that there will be some horses who have a high tolerance for pain and will not show the signs of pivoting on the hind legs and such until laminitis is well advanced. Pay close attention to the temperature of the feet and the digital pulse in the feet. If there is heat and a pulse increase and any question of laminitis it is always best to call a vet right then. Better to be safe than sorry.

If all four of the horse's feet are affected, they may lie down and not want to get up. When forced to stand, they will usually pull their front legs and hind legs in towards each other under the belly in an attempt to reduce pressure on the hooves.

They may breathe heavy and have star glazed eyes due to the pain. Their feet will feel hot and the digital artery, located over the fetlock joint, will have a pounding pulse.

Each acute laminitis can leave a ring around the hoof. Horses suffering from chronic founder will often have multiple rings on their hooves.They may also develop what is called "seedy toe." Seed toe is a separation of the hoof wall from the sensitive laminae in the toe area. This should be trimmed away. If left untrimmed, the hoof wall can overgrow and form what is called a "slipper foot." In these advanced stages of laminitis, the coronary band (the hairline around the foot) may begin to ooze blood or serum.


Sometimes there can be no apparent cause of laminitis, but some of the following factors have been identified to play a role in some laminitis and founder cases. Although laminitis occurs in the horse's feet, the underlying cause is usually a disturbance somewhere else in the body.

  • Excess of carbohydrates. (Too much grain, lush pasture.)
  • Excessive weight, particularly unilateral weight. Draft horses are particularly prone to laminitis.
  • GI problems and stress/shock, including:
     a. enteritis, intestinal occlusion
     b. colitis, peritonitis
     c. metritis, retained placenta
     d. pneumonia/pleuritis
  • Management factors:
     a. prolonged transportation
     b. excessive work on hard surfaces
     c. bedding containing black walnut shavings
     d. ingestion of cold water when the horse is overheated
  • Endocrine abnormalities:
     a. Cushing's syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism)
     b. insulin resistance (equine metabolic syndrome)
     c. hypothyroidism
     d. administration of glucocorticoid drugs
  • Renal problems
  • Immune disorders
  • Respiratory problems

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Disclaimer: All information contained on this website is based on research and testing to date and is for informational and educational purposes and is not intended to make any unsupported medical claim or the claim that any product is intended to cure, treat or prevent any disease. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Any serious health concern should be treated by a qualified veterinarian or physician.

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