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Laminitis (Founder)

What is Laminitis?


Laminitis (also known as Founder) occurs when the soft tissue structures within the hoof become inflamed. These tissues (laminae), attach the pedal bone to the hoof wall. Laminitis causes extreme pain and leads to instability of the pedal bone in the hoof (image 1). In severe cases, the pedal bone can completely separate from the hoof wall, rotating and sinking within the hoof capsule.

Laminitis is a crippling condition which can be fatal in severe cases. Furthermore, horses with a history of laminitis are particularly susceptible to future episodes and will require lifelong management. This is why preventing laminitis in the first place is very important.



  • Reluctance to move, often lying down

  • 'Sawhorse' stance leaning backwards with front limbs stretched forward to shift weight to hindlimbs.

  • Although all four feet can be affected, the forelimbs are more frequently and severely affected than the hindlimbs

  • It may be difficult for you to pick up one limb due to the severe pain of the other supporting limb

  • Heat in the hoof wall and coronary band (the soft tissue around the top of the hoof)

  • Pain on application of hoof testers (a tool your vet uses to assess hoof pain) – especially over the toe area

  • Strong, throbbing digital pulses may be felt at the back of your horse’s fetlock. If you are uncertain how to check this, ask your vet to demonstrate.

To check the digital pulse:

Slide your hand down the side of your horse’s lower limb where the digital artery runs through the groove between the flexor tendons and the suspensory ligament. Where the artery continues down the back of the fetlock you should be able to feel his pulse. Normally, the pulse should be faint or even seem absent but in laminitic horses it will be stronger and is often referred to as “bounding.” How do you know what’s strong or bounding? . Ideally, you should get to know what’s normal for your horse’s digital pulse. A strong digital pulse can indicate other foot pain, as well, but a bounding digital pulse in both feet is a major clue that laminitis is to blame.


Chronic symptoms:

Structural changes become evident where the inflammation has existed for some time:

  • Laminitic “rings” on the surface of affected hooves which correspond to previous episodes of laminitis 

  • The hoof wall takes on a dish/slipper shape with long toes

  • Where the pedal bone has rotated in the hoof, there may be a bulge or “dropped sole” corresponding to the rotated bone

  • The horse may have a shortened stride and will tend to place more weight on its back legs




Over-feeding fat ponies and horses is a very common cause, particularly during the spring months after recent rain. The soluble carbohydrate (sugar) content increases in grasses and clovers after rain. When ingested, this causes metabolic changes that result in altered blood flow to the hoof which can result in laminae separation.

Other causes include:

  • Over-feeding grain or grain engorgement when a horse gets into a feed shed/bin

  • Retained placenta in post-foaling mares

  • Septicaemic conditions

  • Obesity (a common predisposing factor in laminitic ponies)

  • Lameness which prevents weight bearing in one leg and can lead to laminitis in another supporting limb

  • Trauma resulting from excess work of unshod horses on hard ground, or from agressive hoof trimming


High risk groups:

  • Overweight ponies and their cross-breeds are most prone to laminitis

  • Horses with a history of laminitis

  • Horses grazing Spring pasture containing high soluble carbohydrates

  • Any horse suffering a condition mentioned above




If you suspect your horse has laminitis, seek veterinary attention immediately. Depending on the severity of the clinical signs, your veterinarian may wish to take radiographs (x-rays) of your horse’s feet to determine the degree of rotation of the pedal bone within the hoof. This will provide your vet with a bench-mark against which to assess response to treatment and the necessary information for corrective trimming/shoeing for your farrier to achieve the best possible outcome.


Treatment and Management


Early diagnosis and an aggressive approach to treatment, are important in ensuring a good outcome.

  • First, remove the cause. Horses which have developed laminitis as a result of over-feeding need to be removed from the food source immediately. 

  • Anti-inflammatory medications are the cornerstone of therapy and will provide pain relief. Consult with your veterinarian regarding the appropriate drug and dose-rate depending on the cause/severity/stage of laminitis.

  • Affected horses need to be stabled in deep bedding so they can dig their hooves into a comfortable position. Alternatively a sand yard can be used, however it is crucial that you use a hoof pick twice daily to prevent sand packing up in the sole. In the early stages exercise should be avoided as it may result in further rotation of the pedal bone.

  • Hoof care is vital. Your farrier can consult with your vet and trim the hoof according to the degree of rotation of the pedal bone (ideally based on x-ray findings). In the meantime, your vet can apply sole supports (foam or putties) to provide some comfort and support to the deep structures of the foot.

  • Ongoing dietary management is crucial. Consult with your vet on the most appropriate feeding regime. Many feeds promoted as being safe for laminitic horses are not appropriate if your horse is also receiving other feed sources high in soluble carbohydrate. Until you are able to get veterinary attention/advice, feed hay only and limit/prevent pasture access.

  • Horses need company. Ensure that horses confined during laminitis treatment are able to interact with other horses.



  • Ensure your horse or pony is fed a diet appropriate for their type, age and activity level

  • Restrict access to lush pasture, particularly during the spring months

  • Ensure your horse receives regular hoof care from a reputable farrier

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