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Acute Laminits: Critical Care Counts

Written by: Jenna Tranter

Published on: 07/11/2022

You’ve just gotten to the barn and there’s something very wrong with your horse. They have been out happily grazing all day and now they look like they are rocking back onto their hind feet to keep their weight off their fronts and they don’t want to move at all. Chances are high with these symptoms your horse may be experiencing a laminitic episode. Quick action can help minimize the long term implications and avoid founder and rotation. Do you know what to do in this situation?

What happens when a horse has a laminitic episode?

The horse’s hoof is supported by laminae within the walls of their hooves. There are two types of laminae- sensitive and insensitive, and these laminae weave together to hold the coffin bone and the hoof together. They are responsible for holding the hoof wall onto the horse's foot. When these laminae become inflamed they can no longer do their job- this results in excruciating pain, lameness and if left untreated, career ending damage may be done.

The term founder and laminitis are often used interchangeably but are two different things. A laminitic event can trigger Founder. Founder occurs when the coffin bone within the hoof capsule sinks and rotates within the hoof wall. Founder is often devastating and the prognosis for foundered horses can vary wildly depending on the severity.

What are the common causes of Laminitis?

There are quite a number of causes of laminitis and we will run through some of them below. One of the most common causes of laminitis is overfeeding. Horses can also develop laminitis due to sudden feed changes, or sudden access to lush forage/ pasture. Horses who are exposed to toxins, or who develop high fevers may also experience laminitis. Sometimes if a horse has had an injury to one leg they will bear all their weight on their remaining three limbs- this can also trigger laminitis in the remaining three ‘good’ legs. Excessive concussion to feet can also be a cause- this type of laminitis is often referred to as road founder.

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✅ Ideal balance of Omega-3 compared to other products, like soybean oil.
✅ Canadian produced and operated.

Are some horses at a higher risk?  

Much like with other illnesses and problems there are horses that are at a higher risk of laminitis than others. Heavy draft breeds, and overweight horses are at a much higher risk than horses at a healthy weight, as well as miniature horses, donkeys, and ponies. Horses with metabolic disorders, such as Cushing's disease, are also at a higher risk. Horses who receive highly caloric and nutrient dense feed stuff in large quantities are also at risk. Most people know at least one horse who has ‘escaped’ and broken into the feed room- unadulterated access to grain is also a trigger. In cases where your horse has had unrestricted access to grain you should always call your vet before any symptoms of laminitis or colic begins so corrective treatment can begin.

The Signs: What should I be looking out for?

We already mentioned the rocked back appearance of a horse trying to keep weight off their feet and their reluctance to move. You can also feel for heat in the hooves- hooves should never be ‘hot’. Horses experiencing laminitis will also have an increased digital pulse. You can feel that pulse on either side of the sesamoid bone at the fetlock level.

My horse is having a laminitic episode- what do I do?

First and most importantly contact your veterinarian immediately. Once you have contacted your veterinarian you will want to remove the horse from feed and get it to an area where they have no access to grass or other feeds. Often in the rush to move them many people will just walk the horse off- movement can cause more damage to the structure of the hoof. Before you move your horse try to get a frog support on them. There are commercially available frog supports but owners often don’t keep them in their proverbial toolbox. Insulation styrofoam works very well- anything that can absorb some of the pressure will do. You need to ensure that you are only supporting the frog and not the whole sole. Frog supports can be applied with vet wrap or duct tape in an emergency situation. Once you have their frog supported you can then attempt to move them to a safe space.

While you wait for your veterinarian to arrive, icing the feet can help. Cutting a feed bag down, filling with ice, placing the hoof in, and taping the top of the bag around the horse's leg is another effective way to ice hooves in an emergency you are not prepared for. Upon your vets arrival your horse will likely be started on a regiment of medications including anti-inflammatories and your vet will provide you with a long term treatment plan.

Recovery.

The prognosis for recovery can vary wildly from horse to horse depending on the severity of the episode and whether or not there has been rotation of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule (founder). When rotation has occurred the long term prognosis is worse. Many horses who have a laminitic episode can make a full recovery and return to some form of work. As noted earlier your vet will provide you with a long term treatment plan and these plans often involve dietary changes & regular farrier care. Omega 3 is a valuable addition to the diet of a horse recovering from a laminitic episode due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It also promotes healthy hoof growth and proper moisture levels within the hoof which is critical for laminitic horses. Smart Earth Camelina oil is safe for horses that have had, or are currently experincing both laminitis and founder as it contains no sugars and is a safe form of fat for laminitic horses. It is a great option for owners looking to give their horses recovery a healthy boost!

Meet Jenna Tranter

Jenna Tranter is Smart Earth Camelina Corp's equine nutritionist. She is the owner and operator of Four Corners Equestrian and has been involved in the industry for over 20 years.

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About the Author

Jenna is a lifelong equestrian and lover of all animals big and small. She has both studied and worked within the industry for 20+ years in both the feed sector as well as being a coach and hunter/jumper facility owner with time spent in the UK and Canada. She holds a number of equine certifications from universities in both countries. She also has completed numerous courses in equine body work, including equi-bow, but is not a practitioner at this time due to there just not being enough time in the day! Jenna lives on her farm in Ontario, Canada with her husband, 19 horses, 2 goats, a flock of ducks, a flock of chickens, her barn cats and her 3 loyal dogs, Bosco, Evaa & Eeyore.