Why do horses suffer from founder?

Understanding Founder in Horses

Founder, also known as laminitis, is a painful condition that affects the hooves of horses. It occurs when the sensitive laminae, which connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone, become inflamed and damaged. This can lead to separation of the hoof wall and the coffin bone, as well as rotation or sinking of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. Founder is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires prompt veterinary attention and management.

Definition and Causes of Founder

Founder can have many causes, including overeating of grain or lush pasture, obesity, retained placenta after foaling, certain medications, infection or illness, excessive exercise, and trauma to the hooves. These factors can trigger a metabolic and inflammatory response in the horse’s body that affects the blood flow to the laminae, leading to lameness and pain. Founder can occur in any breed or age of horse, but is more common in ponies and horses with insulin resistance, Cushing’s disease, or other metabolic disorders.

Symptoms of Founder in Horses

The symptoms of founder can vary depending on the severity and stage of the condition, but typically include lameness, reluctance to move, shifting weight between hooves, heat in the hooves, increased digital pulses, and a stretched or “rocked back” stance. In severe cases, the horse may lie down and be unable to rise due to pain. In chronic cases, the hooves may develop rings, ridges, or a “founder stance” with a prominent frog and bulging coronary band.

How Founder Affects Hoof Structures

Founder can have a profound impact on the internal and external structures of the hooves. Prolonged inflammation in the laminae can cause them to weaken and stretch, leading to separation of the hoof wall and coffin bone. This can result in rotation or sinking of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule, which can cause further damage to the soft tissues and nerves in the hoof. Over time, the hooves may become misshapen, thin-walled, and prone to infections and abscesses.

Risk Factors for Founder in Horses

There are several risk factors that can increase a horse’s likelihood of developing founder. These include obesity, insulin resistance, Cushing’s disease, history of laminitis or founder, overfeeding of grain or lush pasture, certain medications (such as steroids), and lack of exercise. Horses with these risk factors should be closely monitored and managed to prevent the onset of founder.

Diagnosing Founder in Horses

Diagnosing founder requires a thorough veterinary examination of the horse’s hooves, as well as a review of their medical history and diet. The vet may take X-rays to assess the position of the coffin bone and look for any signs of damage or separation. They may also perform blood tests to check for underlying metabolic or hormonal imbalances that could contribute to the condition.

Founder Treatment Options

Treatment for founder typically involves a combination of pain management, supportive care, and addressing the underlying cause of the condition. This may include administering anti-inflammatory medication, providing soft bedding and limited exercise, using corrective shoeing or trimming to relieve pressure on the hooves, and adjusting the horse’s diet to reduce inflammation and improve metabolic function. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to realign the coffin bone and repair any damage to the hoof structures.

Prevention of Founder in Horses

Preventing founder is key to maintaining your horse’s health and well-being. This can be done by limiting their access to grain and lush pasture, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly, providing a balanced and nutritious diet, and monitoring for signs of underlying metabolic or hormonal disorders. Regular veterinary check-ups and hoof care can also help prevent the onset of founder.

The Role of Diet and Exercise in Founder

Diet and exercise play a crucial role in preventing and managing founder in horses. Feeding a diet that is low in starch and sugar, and high in fiber, can help reduce inflammation and maintain healthy metabolic function. Providing regular exercise, such as turn-out time or riding, can also help improve circulation and prevent obesity. However, it is important to introduce changes to your horse’s diet and exercise routine gradually, to avoid triggering a metabolic or inflammatory response.

Proper Hoof Care to Combat Founder

Proper hoof care is essential to combating founder in horses. This includes regular trimming and shoeing to maintain proper balance and relieve pressure on the hooves, as well as providing soft bedding and avoiding hard or abrasive surfaces. It is also important to monitor your horse’s hooves for any signs of inflammation or damage, and to seek veterinary attention promptly if you suspect they may have developed founder. With proper care and management, horses with founder can lead healthy and comfortable lives.

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