Last Updated on February 1, 2022
Founder, or laminitis, is a serious hoof condition. Due to the unique circumstances in which it may occur and the species it affects, many new horse owners are unaware of the condition. Others are unsure of what to do if they suspect the founder. Here’s what you need to know, and home remedy options for a founder when mild enough to treat at home:
What is “Founder”?
Although laminitis and founder are used interchangeably, laminitis is frequently used to refer to an initial onset and symptoms. Founder, especially the term “founder prone”, is used to describe a chronic condition significantly affecting the coffin bone. The term “laminitis” comes from the disruption of blood flow to both the sensitive and insensitive laminae, which secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall. For a run-down on basic hoof structure and anatomy, click here. Many times, the laminae become permanently weakened and will interfere with the wall and bone bond security.
Causes Founder in Horses
Unfortunately, there is no singular precise cause of laminitis. Even though it is a hoof issue, causes are frequently from another problem in the horse’s body. The most common cause is “grass founder”, or sudden and excessive access to sugary forage without adaption. Overweight and insulin-resistant horses are, particularly at risk. Some of the known causes include:
- Abrupt change in diet, specifically excessive sugars or feed grains
- Sever colic episodes
- High fevers or certain illnesses
- Retained placentas in mares
- Certain toxins in a horse’s body
- “Road founder”, or hoof concussion
- Excessive weight imbalances
- Other foot diseases
- Steroid use in overweight or insulin-resistant horses
Read more about What Causes a Colic In Horses? Best Colic Treatments
Laminitis can be acute or chronic. Acute symptoms include lameness, increased digital pulses in hooves, hoof heat, certain responses to hoof testers, or a half park or “sawhorse” stance. This is quite noticeable and occurs when the horse has front feet stretched out with the hind feet tucked (often with an arched back indicating discomfort). Chronic laminitis symptoms can include sole bruising, wide white lines, hoof rings, cresty necks, dropped soles, or even dished hooves. Laminitis can be so severe a horse may end up being humanely euthanized if the coffin bone has rotated and penetrated the sole beyond treatment.
Home Remedy for Founder
At-home treatment for the founder should only be used with veterinary guidance for acute symptoms. For chronic laminitis, we recommend an equine professional such as a podiatrist work with your horse for immediate and long-term treatment plans. However, mild cases are often treated at home with proper veterinary oversight.
The first step is any treatment plan is a diagnosis. At-home remedies for mild founder include:
- Immediate dietary restrictions: no grain feed, dry-lot pasture, and hay by a veterinarian
- Anti-endotoxins and anti-coagulants or vasodilators
- Anti-inflammatory administration as approved and advised by your veterinarian
- Cushioning stall to max effort with high shavings for maximum comfort when standing and encouragement to lay
- Specialty shoeing as advised by your veterinarian and farrier
Although certain breeds are at a higher risk, there are preventative measures you can take. All feed needs to be secure and away from horses, and rich pasture grass should be introduced slowly. Horses with compromised immune systems are at particularly high risk. Diet and weight management are essential, as are regular farrier visits.
The founder is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. Be sure to monitor your horse’s weight, food intake/exposure, and maintain a regular farrier schedule. For more information, contact your equine veterinarian.
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Can you still ride a horse with laminitis?
Compared to other equine diseases, laminitis is the rarest, but it is one of the most debilitating conditions a horse can suffer. It is a painful, progressive, and potentially life-threatening disease of the foot and leg. Laminitis is caused by an abnormal buildup of the protective layer (lamina) that covers the inner side of the hoof. Laminitis occurs when the hoof becomes weakened by infection, injury, or trauma. In severe cases, the hoof may completely collapse and fall off. Knowing all this, it is not recommended to ride a horse with laminitis.
What to feed horses that have foundered?
The most important thing is to feed a horse that has foundered a balanced diet. Horses are designed to be fed grass, hay, and grain. When they find themselves on pasture or hay alone, they should be fed a combination of both. They can be fed some grain, if they’re not at pasture or hay. It is recommended to feed horses that have foundered a high-fiber, low-protein diet. Do not feed oats, corn, or molasses. If you are feeding hay, feed a mixture of both grass and hay. If you feed grass and hay together, they will get the vitamins and minerals needed for their bodies to heal. A horse’s body needs vitamin B12 and other B vitamins. Feeding hay will help provide them with those vitamins and minerals.
Does Bute help laminitis?
Bute can be used for laminitis but the more commonly used drug is meloxicam (Metacam). However, both Bute and Meloxicam are NSAIDs and they can both cause GI upsets, especially in the early stages of treatment. Metacam is a safer option than Bute but if you do use Bute, a horse needs to take it regularly and at the same time as Metacam. This is because Metacam is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and can have a direct effect on a horse’s gut. You can use Bute if your horse is showing signs of laminitis but has not yet started to show symptoms of a hot-box or cold-box reaction. If you think that your horse is showing signs of laminitis, you need to be really careful with the way you are treating him. If you want to treat laminitis, make sure you follow the advice of a professional farrier who has experience of dealing with horses with laminitis.
How long does horse founder last?
It’s really up to the horse, how much it’s going to recover and how much it’s going to take. Some horses recover in one month and others take a couple of months, and some never recover. It will depend on how much the hoof is damaged. Founder in horses weakens the support for the bones inside the hoof. Damaged part of the hoof has to fully grow out for the it to heal, which can take 6 to 12 months.
Can a horse recover from founder?
In contrast to its genetic limitations, a horse’s ability to recover from founder is much more difficult to assess. It can take weeks or even months for a horse to recover from laminitis. In one research study, 72% of animals were sound at the trot after 8 weeks and 60% were back in work. However, some horses will never be able to return to their previous level of performance.
Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.