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Laminitis is a word no horse owner wants to hear associated with her horse. It is a crippling disorder that takes weeks or even months for the horse to recover from, and that is if all causative factors are removed and the best equine husbandry is provided. It can be permanently debilitating if not dealt with properly and promptly, leading to much pain and suffering for the horse.
The term laminitis is often used interchangeably with founder, but technically the two are different, though related, phenomenon. Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae in the hoof. The laminae are the velcro-like connections that attach the coffin bone to the inner hoof wall, holding the foot together; because the laminae are trapped between a rock (the coffin bone) and a hard place (the inner hoof wall and sole), any inflammation is painful for the horse. Chronic inflammation over time, or a catastrophic laminitis episode, will lead to degeneration of the blood vessels that feed the laminae and necrosis of the laminae themselves. This breakdown of the laminae results in the coffin bone separating from the hoof wall and “rotating”; this stage of laminitis is properly called founder. In very advanced cases of founder, it is possible for the entire hoof to slough off, or the coffin bone to penetrate the sole.
Laminitis is usually associated with the horse not wanting to bear weight on the front hooves and rocking his weight back on his haunches. Not only do the hooves hurt terribly, but this posture quickly becomes painful as well; the horse was designed to bear more standing weight on the forelimbs, and extended periods of weight bearing on the hindquarters stress the joints and create chronic muscle tension. What isn’t as well recognized is that there are usually early warning signs that a horse is developing laminitis; unless the horse broke into a fifty pound bag of grain, most cases develop over a few days, weeks, or even months. The signs can be subtle and confused for something else, like laziness, muscle soreness or arthritis. For example, in early stage laminitis, a good footed horse will start to mince on gravel and walk slowly on concrete for no apparent reason. A horse with a Grand Prix trot may begin to shuffle like a peanut-rolling pleasure horse. Another horse may not want to pivot on his front feet. A horse that would normally race out to pasture now walks or jogs. While many laminitic horses exhibit the classic signs of heat in the feet and a bounding digital pulse, there are some horses, and especially early stage laminitics, that don’t present these symptoms.
Most laminitis cases are preventable, as they are related to the horse’s diet. Grain overload and too much pasture are very common culprits. Most all grain products are very high in sugar content, and pasture can fluctuate from moderate to high sugar levels. This leads to the reason for writing this article at this time of year; many horse owners realize the potential for grass founder in the spring, but don’t know that fall grasses can be just as problematic, as the climatic conditions that produce such rich forage are basically identical in spring and fall. What is even less known is that some hays may be causing laminitis problems as well, as many of the hays commonly available have been hybridized for maximum sugar content to meet the demands of the dairy industry. The website www.safergrass.org is a must-read for all horse owners wanting to understand the effects of sugar on the horse’s metabolism and how difficult it is to predict sugar content in a particular grass or hay. Whether from grain, grass or hay, this diet rich in sugar triggers the inflammation, and therefore pain, in the hoof.
Other laminitis triggers are not quite as obvious. Some horses react to certain medications, vaccines and wormers. Infectious diseases or a retained placenta are also possible causes. Metabolic disorders such as Cushing’s and insulin resistance can cause chronic laminitis and can be particularly difficult to treat. And laminitis is not just for obese horses. While obesity may make a particular horse an easier target for a laminitis attack, a thin horse can still be susceptible.
If your horse is suddenly moving differently, and there’s no evidence of injury, take note of what may have changed in the last few weeks. Is she being fed a different hay? Has she been put out on pasture? Has there been any other change in the feeding routine? Have any medications been administered? Provide this information to your veterinarian, as these may be clues that the horse is dealing with laminitis.
If laminitis is suspected, contact your veterinarian immediately ( a vet updated with modern techniques. Otherwise you will have a further problem due to the lack of proper diagnosis, the persistence in the management that has been the cause of the disease, shoeing, feeding, incorrect hooves balance. Laminitis is a problem mostly because veterinarians first are not able to recognize and to deal with. Note of Franco Belmonte ) remove any identifiable triggers, and make sure the horse is transitioned to a low sugar diet. In the meantime, there are some safe, natural therapies that can bring some relief to the afflicted equine. Soaking the hooves in ice water can help relieve some of the inflammation, and most laminitic horses are more than happy to put their hot, aching feet in cold water. If medication reaction is suspected, offering the horse some detoxing herbs like nettles, cleavers, dandelion, burdock and milk thistle can help in clearing out the offending substance. For the obese horse, adding cinnamon to the diet may help better regulate blood sugar levels and assist him in loosing some weight. Some herbs that may help moderate pain and inflammation are devil’s claw, boswellia, white willow, turmeric and licorice. Homeopathic belladonna and aconitum may also help the distressed horse, and Bach Rescue Remedy can relieve some of the mental and emotional stress for the horse (and owner!).
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of laminitis, an ounce of prevention is worth around ten pounds of cure. Nipping laminitis before it gets a foothold will save a lot of agony for horse and owner.
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