Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Recognizing the Signs of Laminitis

By: Darlene M. Cox

Laminitis is most likely the disease for which veterinarian treatment is most often sought by horse owners of every ilk and discipline. While laminitis is a very painful disease that affects a horse's feet, the exact cause for it may lie in another part of the horse's body or it can be a result of stress. Laminitis is believed by some to only affect the front feet; however, as in the case of Barbaro (TB), winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, it compromised his hind feet and ultimately led to the decision of his euthanization. Another notable great who had succumbed to laminitis was Secretariat. Laminitis occurs when blood flow is disrupted to the laminae in the foot, which secures the coffin bone to the hoof wall. The laminae within the hoof becomes inflamed and swollen putting pressure on the coffin bone, shifting it downward, or rotating it, toward the sole of the foot. While it is not completely understood how the damage to the laminae occurs, a number of preceptors have been identified in setting the stage for laminitis. The most prevalent of these is poor digestion, which enables toxins to form and enter the horses's bloodstream. Falling within the poor digestion category are horses that have engorged themselves with grain or lush green grass, which puts their digestive systems in a quandary. Post-partum mares that have retained a portion of placenta will have increased blood toxins that could trigger an acute laminitis episodic event. Diseases such as Cushings or hypothyrodism are two medical conditions that initiate the onset of laminitis. Corticosteroid therapies may generate the development of it, as well. Hoof impact stresses on hard surfaces may spark-off an attack of laminitis. Barbaro was felled by laminitis due to the stress his near-hind foot bore while his badly broken off-side leg was placed in a cast. There are two stages of laminitis: acute and chronic. Recognizing the signs of laminitis and immediately contacting your veterinarian will greatly increase your chances of your horse healing and/or surviving his bout with laminitis. An acute stage is the sudden onset of laminitis. Signs of acute laminitis include the following:

  • Lameness in front and/or hind legs. Particularly noticeable when your horse turns in a circle.
  • Heat in the hoof
  • Increased digital pulse in the feet. (You can find the digital pulse by palpating the inside or outside of the leg toward the back of the mid-pastern or fetlock.) A strong pulse will be indicative of laminitis. If you are unsure what you are feeling for, I suggest you 'practice' finding the digital pulse on a healthy horse. While such a pulse will be very slight, you will know where and how to find it if your horse has a laminitic episode.
  • Hesitant walking or the appearance of "walking on eggshells".
  • Standing position with front feet stretched out and hind feet well under the horse bearing most of the weight.
Chronic laminitis occurs in a horse that has had previous acute onsets of the disease. Signs of chronic laminitis may include:
  • Dished hooves (caused by uneven hoof growth)
  • Bruised soles
  • Rings in the hoof wall
  • Dropped soles/flat feet
  • Wide white line (seedy toe)
  • Blood pockets and/or abscesses (usually seen with seedy toe)
If you believe your horse has laminitis, phone your veterinarian immediately. Limit the movement of your horse to prevent further damage or rotation of the coffin bone. Pain management will be the first treatment administered, as laminitis is very painful. Additional treatments may include the use of anti-toxin medications, meds that will increase blood circulation, and x-rays to evaluate the extent of rotation. Convalescence and healing will take weeks, if not months; however, if you obtained medical intervention quickly, it is very likely that your horse will be able to be ridden again. Much depends upon the degree of rotation, if any. Any marked rotation of the coffin bone, as evidenced by x-ray, will require a convalescent period upwards from 8 months, which is the amount of time required for the damaged areas to grow out. If there was no rotation, your horse may be able to be ridden after two months of rest and healing. Prevention of laminitis, whenever possible, is the best cure. Properly house your grain in an area that is not accessible to your horse. Do not turn your horse out on a lush green pasture. If your horse is overweight, establish an exercise regime for weight loss. Implement nutrient supplements into your feeding plan to enhance digestibility of foods; proper and timely hoof trimming providing a well-balanced foot will offset chances of any mechanical stress triggers; inspect the placenta (after birth) of your mare, calling your vet if any pieces appear missing. Quick action on your part will increase the chances of your horse returning to a productive life. As always, stay vigilant and observant of your horse's behaviors and actions, as these will be your first clues to an impending problem.

Happy trails!

1 comment:

Mrs Mom said...

Thanks to researchers such as Dr. Christopher Pollitt, we now know that in the event of a laminitic episode, the FIRST thing to treat the horse is cold hose. He has proven that by cold hosing, applying ice, or standing the horse in cold running water, the episode can be reduced drastically, thus stopping continuing damage. The application of cold restricts the blood vessels in the hoof, reducing the swelling, eliminating the tearing of tissue, stopping rotation.

Through Dr. Robert Bowkers research into hoof mechanism on a microscopic level, we also now know how to trim the hoof (using various barefoot methods) to return the coffin bone to a more normal and natural ground parallel position with in the hoof capsule, returning affected horses to full soundness and health. Bowkers research has been used extensively in our hoof care practice, with an incredible success rate.