How to Treat a Horse with Laminitis or Founder

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What is Laminitis in horses. What is Founder in horses? Does my horse have laminitis, does my horse have founder? What are the symptoms of laminitis, what are the symptoms of founder. How to treat a horse with laminitis or founder.

Some horses, particularly miniature horses, and ponies, are prone to a foot problem known as Founder, or Laminitis. These are actually two different things.

Laminitis is inflamation of the laminae in the horses hoof. The laminae's basic function is to hold the hoof wall to the coffin bone inside. When these fail it is called Laminities, when these die, it is called founder. Laminitis is painful, founder, even more so. Both are more common in a horse's front hooves than back, and can occur in only one foot, although usually is a problem in two.

Causes of Laminitis or Founder

Laminitis and Founder, both are often caused by the horse eating a diet that is too rich for it. Sometimes this happens if a horse gets into a grain bin and eats too much, or is being kept on a rich pasture. Since ponies, miniature horses, and draft horses, are fairly efficient eaters, they are more prone to these problems, as are donkeys.

Other causes include drinking too much water after a heavy work out, retained placenta in mares, the use of Black Walnut shavings as bedding, cushings disease, stress or colic, as well as being worked on hard surfaces.

Symptoms of Laminitis or Founder

A horse who is stricken with Laminitis, or Founder, will often stand in a characteristic way of having its back feet under its body (when the front feet are affected) this takes most of the weight off the front feet. Some horses, who suffer from problems in all four feet, will spend a lot of time laying down to provide relief to their tender feet. They will often walk gingerly, taking short steps.

The feet may feel hot and a high pulse may be felt at the fetlock. The horse, may get a “cresty neck”, this is quite common in donkeys anyhow as a result of getting “fat”. A horse suffering from laminitis or founder will often breathe heavily.

Horses who suffer frequent bouts will develop rings on the wall of their hooves.

Treatment of Laminitis or Founder

If your horse got into the grain bin call your veterinarian immediately, and keep the horse walking until the vet arrives. This would be the case when you catch the horse in the act, or shortly there after and the problem has not yet set in. In this case always follow your veterinarian's advice.

In other cases:

  • Talk to your farrier about trimming the hooves in a way to relieve the pain, and help the horse cope.
  • You may find soaking the horses feet in cold water helps relieve the pain.
  • Walking the horse may help increase blood circulation, and has shown to help the horses feel better. It must be done on soft ground, and kept within the horse's means and pain tolerance. If the horse becomes too painful to walk, you should call a veterinarian.
  • Remove the horse from pasture, and instead confine it in a dirt pen, where it can get exercise, but not any rich feed. It should be put on a controlled diet of grass hay, with no grains. Although it should be allowed to lay down to reduce pain, some movement should be encouraged to help blood circulation. This can be done by having small piles of hay placed in different areas of the pen.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about the use of pain killers.
  • Make sure the horse always has access to fresh water.

miniature horse soaking feet

Above:  Miniature horse soaking her feet in cold water.  ©B Nelson

Note: Laminitis and Founder should be considered serious. They can make a horse so lame it should not be ridden. In some severe cases, especially when all four feet are badly affected euthanasia may be suggested by your veterinarian. With proper management (keeping the horse off lush pasture, and on a grain free diet) other horses can go on to have long, productive, and painfree, lives.


Roberta Baxter
Posted on Aug 13, 2011
Ron Siojo
Posted on Aug 13, 2011
Posted on Aug 12, 2011
Heather Tooley
Posted on Aug 12, 2011