Last Updated on June 19, 2022
If your horse is prone to laminitis, finding the right forage can be a minefield. Can a horse founder on hay, or is grass the problem? And how do you keep a laminitic horse at the right bodyweight? Let’s find out!
What Is Founder In Horses?
Founder in horses is a debilitating and painful disease that affects the hooves of the horse. This condition is more correctly known as laminitis, but the common name founder is still heard in many locations.
The term laminitis means inflammation of the laminae. The laminae are a form of tissue that connect the hoof wall to the underlying bony structures, which resemble Velcro. When the laminae become inflamed, the bonds that hold them together start to weaken, and the laminae can become separated.
When this happens, the consequences can be disastrous for the horse. Not only is laminitis very painful, but this weakening of the laminae can cause permanent changes to the structures within the hoof. The bond between the hoof wall and underlying bones is weakened, and the weight of the horse causes the distal phalanx to rotate and sink.
If a case of laminitis is identified and treated quickly, these changes may only be minor and the horse can make a full recovery. However, in a severe case of laminitis, the distal phalanx may move to such an extent that a full recovery might be impossible. Laminitis is responsible for over 7% of equine deaths, so this common disease is not something to be ignored.
Why Do Horses Founder?
So, what would cause these changes to happen in a horse’s hoof? The reasons behind laminitis are not fully understood, but we do know that there are three key groups of reasons why horses founder:
1. Acute Inflammatory Diseases
When a horse suffers a sudden and severe inflammatory response, laminitis often occurs as a secondary condition. Acute inflammatory diseases that can lead to laminitis include placentitis, septicemia, diarrhea, colic, and pneumonia. All of these disorders can lead to systemic inflammation, which is thought to be the reason why they can lead to laminitis.
2. Hormonal Diseases
Endocrine, or hormonal, diseases are the most common causes of laminitis. These include Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), Insulin Resistance (IR), and Cushing’s Disease (Pars Pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction, or PPID).
It is these disorders that have led people to make the assumption that grass can cause laminitis in horses. All of these hormonal diseases create metabolic imbalances in the body, leading to poor regulation of blood sugar and insulin. When these horses eat, the blood glucose levels increase to abnormal levels and this is thought to lead to the inflammatory changes within the hoof wall.
So, while there is a link between what a horse eats and whether it gets laminitis or not, it has been shown that for this to happen there must be an underlying cause in the first place.
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3. Mechanical Overload
When a horse is forced to bear additional weight on a limb for a long period of time, laminitic changes can occur within the hoof. For example, if a horse is severely lame on one foreleg, it will need to carry far more weight than normal on the opposing foreleg. This reduces blood circulation to the hoof wall, causing inflammation and laminitis.
Can A Horse Founder On Hay?
Whether a horse can founder on hay depends on the underlying cause of the laminitis and the type of hay. Horses that have laminitis due to hormonal disorders are far more likely to suffer from a bout of inflammation in the hoof as a result of consuming the wrong type of food.
For this reason, these horses are normally fed a highly controlled diet that is low in sugar. Maintaining a good body condition score is also vital in these cases, to reduce the incidence of insulin resistance.
The safest hay to feed a foundering horse is hay that is low in soluble carbohydrates. The best option is hay made in the summer from mature seeded pasture. Soaking the hay for 60 minutes will reduce soluble carbohydrate levels by a further 30%.
Summary – Can A Horse Founder On Hay?
So, as we have learned, the question of can a horse founder on hay depends on the underlying cause for the laminitis. Founder, or laminitis, can occur for a variety of reasons, and in obese horses can be a result of eating hay that is too high in sugars or fructans. Other types of laminitis, such as that seen in geriatric ponies with Cushing’s disease, may not be triggered by eating hay.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about can a horse founder on hay! Do you have a pony with laminitis that you are struggling to get under control? Or perhaps you’ve got some great feeding tips for horses that are prone to foundering? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Can Horses Get Laminitis From Hay?
It is unlikely that a horse will get laminitis from hay, unless it is overweight or obese. Horses with abnormal amounts of body fat are much more susceptible to laminitis. Any overweight horse should be put on a restricted diet with regular body condition scoring to monitor bodyweight and abnormal fat deposits.
How Do I Stop My Horse From Foundering?
To stop a horse from foundering your veterinarian will need to identify the underlying cause through a series of diagnostic tests. In the meantime, the horse should be kept stabled and fed a diet of hay that is low in soluble carbohydrates.
What Hay Is Best For Foundered Horses?
The best hay for foundered horses is poor quality hay. Haylage should not be fed to overweight horses or those prone to founder, as it can trigger an increase in insulin. If a horse with laminitis is underweight, extra energy can be provided in the form of oil or unmollassed sugar beet.
Can A Horse Founder On Eating Too Much Hay?
Too much hay could potentially trigger founder in horses, but only if the horse was suffering from an underlying condition that made it more susceptible to laminitis.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1