Facebook Series - LaminitisFounder

What is the difference between laminitis and ‘founder’?
Words that end in ‘itis’ are referring to inflammation therefore Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae: the very sensitive tissue that connects the pedal (coffin) bone to the inner hoof wall inside the hoof.
There are other less common causes of laminitis but our discussion relates to ‘Diet-Related Laminitis’.

Diet related metabolic changes in the horse damage the laminae triggering an inflammatory response (hot, red and swollen). Because this happens inside the confines of the hard hoof wall it is excruciatingly painful.
Remember horses are ‘silent sufferers’ so many people under-estimate the degree of pain the horse is experiencing.

The horse will have ‘sore feet’, shift weight from foot to foot and become progressively more reluctant to move.
If urgent action isn’t taken the laminae will ‘let go’ allowing the previously well supported coffin bone to sink down in the hoof.
This is when it becomes Founder which is even more painful and needs immediate attention!

Many people think there is no hope once the coffin bone has penetrated the sole of the hoof but Peppy’s story illustrates how it is possible for them to make a full recovery. It requires a good judgement call and a dedicated person.
Do not muck around with this, it is one of the most painful (and common) conditions that can afflict any horse or pony.


Who is likely to be affected?

Most people associate laminitis as being linked with obesity.
This is so misleading as many horses that are not obese are prone too. They are often referred to as ‘IR’ (Insulin resistant) or ‘metabolic’ ie they show signs of metabolic syndrome including the cresty neck and pads of fat deposited above the tail head.

Consequently people only concentrate on lowering the carbohydrate/sugar content of their susceptible horse’s diet when this is only part of the story and correcting mineral imbalances is, as we have found, equally, if not more important.

More on this later but you will find the long term feeding of the right minerals including salt to your horses on grass is very preventative long term, significantly raising the threshold at which they will tip over.

Actually any horse can get laminitis.
We were caught out with one of Val’s quarter-horses a few years ago who wasn’t obese and did not show any signs of metabolic syndrome at all.
We went away for a few days and the fact it rained and drizzled the whole time coupled with the fact she missed out on her hard feeds for 3 days (we did have people feeding them hay and checking on them) we couldn’t believe it when she came down with a bout of laminitis.
She has never had it since.

What are the signs of an IR (Insulin Resistant) Horse?

Can be referred to as ‘metabolic’ or having ‘metabolic syndrome’
This is different to ‘obesity’ as a lot of IR horses are not obese, their ribs can be visible and they show some or all of the following:
• Cresty Neck
• Fat Pads
• Swollen Sheath
• Sore feet
• Blood Shot Eyes
• Rocks back on heels
• Increased Digital pulse
In actual fact any of these signs indicate damage to the laminae and even if you act now, you will still have hoof rings (see pic) grow down. Urgent action is needed to prevent the condition progressing to the even more excruciating ‘founder”!

Can horses get laminitis in winter?

The answer is YES as winter frosts and cold snaps cause potassium & nitrogen spikes in the grass.



Often the very first sign of a bout of laminitis is the horse walking ‘stiffly’ and becoming more and more reluctant to move.
Immediately take them off all green, putting them in a yard or other ‘dry lot’.
Call your veterinarian for effective pain relief !
Don't rely on natural forms of pain relief at this stage - when horses have acute laminitis, the pain is excrutiating and you do need the heavy duty artillery.
Have plenty of grass hay available so they can trickle feed. Soak the hay for at least an hour before feeding. Soaking reduces sugar content by approx 30% and potassium content by approx 50%. (Katy Watts)
Hay-Savers (Whole-bale) are ideal for this purpose in order not to waste hay, yet have it there 24/7 for them.
While the horse is in crisis, do not give him any hard feed whatsoever - laminitis 'tick' or not.

Once the horse is pain free, you can introduce small feeds consisting of white chaff (NO lucerne or clover), crushed linseed, salt, and the minerals which are to balance their electrolytes and supply nutirents for tissue repair. Feeding these minerals is equally as important as minimizing sugars. Check they are drinking plenty of water.

Ensure soft footing or use memory foam padded boots.
Standing in mud will actually provide some relief for them. Alternatively standing on sand or sawdust (untreated)
Check out the CalmHealthyHorses Feed Plan

What is the real cause of laminitis?

Here are some new ideas because frankly the old ideas don’t always ‘fit’.

We are particularly referring to the most common form of laminitis which is ‘GRASS - RELATED' laminitis’ here.
(Other causes include any major infection as in a retained placenta, constant weight-bearing on the good leg when the other is injured, standing on poisonous substances, gorging on grains)

Could it be that sugars (NSC’s, carbs, starch) are only a part of the story?
I propose that ‘disturbance to electrolyte homeostasis’ is the real cause in many cases. Here is some food for thought:
Horses and ponies ALREADY ON A VERY LOW CARBOHYDRATE DIET still get laminitis

There tend to be ‘spates’ of laminitis in a district 1-2 days after rain, frosts, cold snaps, consecutive cloudy days, green shoots appearing (all cause potassium/nitrogen ‘spikes’ in the grass).
Spring grass has a high water content which exacerbates the lack of salt
You will also observe that consistent addition of salt and other buffers (as in Graze Ezy) to the daily feed will significantly raise the threshold at which prone animals will get a bout of laminitis.
Did you know that when the ‘crest’ hardens, it has filled with WATER, further implicating electrolyte imbalances

One of the latest theories regarding causes of laminitis is ‘glucose starvation to the cells of the laminae’.
Salt is sodium chloride. The sodium component is required to transport glucose across cell membranes into the cells...

This has MAJOR implications for other metabolic diseases
This is why one of the most helpful things you can do for horses whose diet contains green, non-mature grass is NOT add more potassium & nitrogen from other feed sources and make sure you feed salt in the horses feed and DO NOT rely on just a salt lick!

Should You Soak the Hay?

Soaking the hay for at least an hour in cold water reduces NSC (sugar) content by 30% and equally important potassium content by 50%. (Katy Watts).
It is an excellent thing to do if your horse is prone to laminitis, actually has sore feet or laminitis, has metabolic syndrome or is obese.
However, best not to soak the hay if your horse needs to gain condition.
You need a large tub with a plug and near the hose as you need to soak the hay in fresh water, not the same water as the sugar ferments and for obvious reasons won’t be good for them. Some people fill their Hay-Savers and dunk them in the tub for an hour.

NB Some people think that the darker the water the more sugar has come out but the colour of the water has no correlation with sugar content. The colour is due to pigments leaching out of the hay.