Lamini­tis: Fall Risks

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Lamini­tis is the most se­ri­ous dis­ease of the equine foot and causes patho­log­i­cal changes in anatomy that lead to lon­glast­ing, crip­pling changes in func­tion (termed chronic lamini­tis or founder). It’s the sec­ond-big­gest killer of horses af­ter colic.

A horse has lamini­tis when the foot’s lam­ina, the con­nect­ing fibers be­tween hoof wall and bone, sud­denly fail. With­out the bone prop­erly at­tached to the in­side of the hoof, the horse’s weight and the forces of lo­co­mo­tion drive the bone down into the hoof capsule. Ar­ter­ies and veins are sheared and crushed, and the blood­de­liv­ery sys­tem to the coronet and sole is dam­aged. This re­sults in un­re­lent­ing foot pain and lame­ness.

Au­tumn-lamini­tis risk fac­tors in­clude hor­monal dis­or­ders (such as Equine Meta­bolic Syn­drome and Pi­tu­itary Pars In­ter­me­dia Dys­func­tion — for­merly Cush­ing’s Dis­ease); obe­sity; a ridged hoof wall or changes in hoof-growth pat­tern; spring­time bouts of lamini­tis; grain over­load; drug re­ac­tions; high fever; and high stress.

Rich grass doesn’t di­rectly cause lamini­tis, but it can be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor. Some horses are sen­si­tive ei­ther to weight gain from grass or to some­thing in the grass it­self. Most grass pas­tures dry up or be­come dor­mant in the win­ter months in tem­per­ate cli­mates.

Spring grass pro­duces large amounts of sug­ary sub­stances to give the pas­ture en­ergy to grow and blos­som, and the pas­ture hums with ac­tiv­ity un­til the hot sun slows things down into mid­sum­mer dor­mancy. When fall comes, pas­tures are re­freshed by warm days and cool nights, as well as more rain than in sum­mer.

As au­tumn gets colder and darker, you might be tempted to feed your horse more hay, which can be as rich as lush grass.

Lamini­tis-Pre­ven­tion Tips

Track your horse’s con­di­tion. Know your horse’s nor­mal Hen­neke body-con­di­tion score. Pho­to­graph your horse sev­eral times a year. If you have ac­cess to a horse scale, record your horse’s weight, and keep it for ref­er­ence. Work your horse. Keep your horse ac­tive. Ride, drive or pony him reg­u­larly, all year long. Watch the grain. Don’t in­crease your horse’s grain ra­tion just be­cause the air is crisp. Record how much grain you feed him from sea­son to sea­son. Mea­sure grain with a marked scoop. An­a­lyze hay. The best hay has less than 10 per­cent non­struc­tural car­bo­hy­drate (NSC). Soak hay for half an hour be­fore feed­ing to re­duce the su­gar con­tent. Note the weather. Cool nights and warm sunny days usu­ally cre­ate the most lush pas­ture grass. When brown sum­mer grass starts turn­ing green, move at-risk horses off pas­ture. Use a graz­ing muz­zle. Use a slow­graz­ing muz­zle on at-risk horses, even for short turnout times. Use a dry lot. Turn a fenced-off area into a dry lot for an at-risk horse. Pre­vent grass growth with lay­ers of sand, stone dust or wood chips. Even sparse grass and weeds can be dan­ger­ous to an at-risk horse. Know your horse’s foot con­di­tion. Ask your far­rier how the white line looks and if he has bruises or founder rings on his feet. Keep a horse-health di­ary. Has your horse ever had mild lame­ness in the spring or fall? Do you see a pat­tern of sea­sonal lame­ness? Does the lame­ness cor­re­spond to changes in pad­docks, or a new load of hay? Does your horse re­sist chang­ing leads or pre­fer just one gait? Be pre­pared. If your horse has had lamini­tis in the past, dis­cuss it with your vet­eri­nar­ian and far­rier. Plan what to do if your horse be­comes lame. Boots with sup­port­ive pads are a good in­vest­ment if he does.

6 Signs of Lamini­tis

• Your horse may as­sume an un­usual stance, with his front legs stretched out, or he may shift his weight from one foot to the other. • Your horse may walk gin­gerly, or rock

back and forth in his stall. • On the lead line, your horse may balk

when asked to turn. • Your horse may lie down more of­ten than

usual. • You may no­tice changes in the growth of your horse’s feet. His heels may grow faster than the toes, and growth rings may look curved in­stead of sym­met­ri­cal. The white line at the toe may be stretched. • You may feel a strong pulse at the back of your horse’s pastern and/or an ab­nor­mally warm hoof wall; th­ese are dan­ger signs.

Emer­gency Ac­tion Steps

If you be­lieve that your horse is suf­fer­ing from lamini­tis, slowly and care­fully move him into a stall. Feed hay, but not grain or su­gar-rich car­rots and ap­ples. Call both your vet­eri­nar­ian and your far­rier.

Re­cent re­search proves that in­ten­sive ice soak­ing pre­vents lamini­tis in the early stages. Don­ald Walsh, DVM, rec­om­mends soak­ing your horse’s feet in deep ice wa­ter for the first 24 to 48 hours.

Avoid med­i­cat­ing your horse un­til he’s been seen by your vet­eri­nar­ian. Your vet needs to make an ob­jec­tive judg­ment about your horse’s level of pain and the sever­ity of lame­ness. Your vet will likely draw up a diet and med­i­ca­tion plan, test your horse’s hor­mone lev­els, and dis­cuss a shoe­ing or trim­ming plan with your far­rier. — Fran Jurga, ed­i­tor and pub­lisher of the Glouces­ter, Mas­sachusetts-based Hoof­care & Lame­ness: The Jour­nal of Equine Foot Sci­ence, and au­thor of the in­for­ma­tional Hoof Blog, www.hoof

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