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Equine Founder

Updated: May 6

What is Founder?

Founder in horses occurs due to the lack of blood flow in the laminae, which produces inflammation in the horse's hoof. With time, the cells of the laminae are damaged due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients that are needed in the horse's blood. If the problem is not treated in the early stages of the founder, the laminae will start to die and cause numerous problems along with pain. When laminae die, the coffin bone can no longer support the weight of the horse. Sometimes the coffin bone can protrude out through the sole, resulting in a potential irreversible case of lameness and excruciating pain.

Founder (also known as laminitis) in horses is an extremely serious condition of the hoof caused by the coffin bone rotating and pointing down towards the horse’s sole. This is extremely painful and in some instances, it may be necessary to euthanize the horse.

Symptoms of Founder in Horses:

A founder can happen in any of the hoofs, but more often it happens in the front. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of the founder are:

  1. Sudden lameness

  2. Reluctance to move or walk

  3. Frequently laying down

  4. Pulse that is felt in the hoof

  5. Alternating weight back and forth from leg to leg

  6. The horse does not want to lift, bend, or raise a leg

  7. Warm or hot hoof

  8. Pain when standing or moving

  9. Standing with the front legs out in front of their body

  10. Rotation of coffin bone

  11. Standing with front legs out and rear legs under their body

Types of Founder in Horses:

  1. "Acute" founder is the sudden breakdown of the attachment between the hoof and the laminae (the coffin bone)

  2. "Chronic" founder is the continuation of acute founder past the 72-hour mark

  3. "Support-limb" founder happens when a healthy hoof that bears all of the weight of an injured hoof

Causes of Founder:

  1. Feeding your horse large amounts of soluble carbohydrates can cause an overload of undigested sugars and starches

  2. A high fever or an illness that causes equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)

  3. A severe case of colic, such as stress from foaling, traveling, or even simple changes in the horse's environment

  4. Infections, such as severe bacterial infections, can cause blood poisoning (toxemia) and ultimately founder

  5. Working your horse too fast or too hard for a long period of time

  6. Cushing’s disease is a pituitary gland disease that causes increased thirst, hunger, weight loss, and sweating and a possibility of founder.

The Diagnosis of Founder:

Be prepared to tell your veterinarian about your horse’s medical history along with its vaccination history. This will give your veterinarian a head start prior to a comprehensive physical and lameness examination which includes the palpation of certain areas for heat, pain, and inflammation. A static flexion will also be done to check out your horse's range of motion. The veterinarian will ask you to trot off your horse to observe your horse in motion. A hoof tester will be used next to put pressure on certain areas of the foot to find the exact location of the rotation. In addition, the veterinarian will need to take x-rays of the hoof so to check the alignment of the coffin bone and may also do an ultrasound as well for more of a more detailed view.

The Treatment of Founder in Horses:

The treatment of founder depends on the cause of the founder. The underlying problem must be treated at the same time to ensure ultimate success.

The Medications To Be Used:

Your veterinarian will first administer an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) drug to relieve pain and inflammation. A thyroid supplement will also be given only if your horse is found to have Cushing’s disease. A heel wedge, heart bar shoes, or foam supports can be used for support. Sole putty may also be used from the heels to the tip of the frog to provide support to the frog.

Cold Therapy IS A MUST:

The best way to administer cold therapy is by immersing your horse’s hoof in ice water on and off for twenty minutes at a time for at least three full days. Twenty minutes in ice, then twenty minutes out, and keep repeating. The ice will need to constantly be added to keep the water temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Must-Have Absolute Stall Rest:

Keep your horse in a quiet stall with enough bedding to support their frog. Your veterinarian will be suggesting this for up to one month or longer.

Possible Surgery Options:

There are only a couple of options for surgery. Such options are hoof wall resection or deep digital flexor tenotomy.

Prognosis and Recovery of Foundered Horses:

The prognosis for a foundered horse is quite guarded. While some horses may be able to withstand the long, arduous treatment or even heal on their own, there are others who may never become sound and be in constant pain for the rest of their lives and therefore may need to be euthanized.

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