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Laminitis is an inflammation and deterioration of the laminae. Together with the deep digital flexor tendon, the laminae provide essential support for the main bone in the hoof known as the coffin bone. A normal, healthy hoof is shown in Diagram 1. In acute laminitic cases, where the laminae are inflamed but the coffin bone has not started to pull away from the hoof wall,
a full recovery can be achieved. However, if not managed properly, the laminae will eventually deteriorate over time, the hoof will become less stable and the coffin bone will begin to rotate downward (Diagram 2). In severe cases, the coffin bone loses complete support, rotates sharply downward (Diagram 3) and eventually penetrates through the bottom or "sole" of the hoof. Penetration of the sole is a catastrophic event for a horse and in extreme cases, the horse will not survive.
Founder is advanced and severe Laminitis. The coffin bone has moved and shifted out of place, and has begun to rotate. The most accurate way to determine how much rotation has occurred is to do an x-ray. If the x-ray reveals that there is no movement of the coffin bone, the laminitic event is acute and did not progress to Founder. The horse can expect a full recovery if managed properly. However, if the horse is diagnosed with Founder based on examination of the x-ray, this is a chronic condition. Because laminae have died, the coffin bone has moved out of place and the internal confirmation of the hoof has been altered permanently. A sinking, penetrating coffin bone is the worst case scenario for a foundered horse.
The events leading up to laminitis can begin in the digestive tract or the endocrine system of the horse and are not always visible until the horse shows signs of not wanting to put pressure on his feet. However, horses that are overweight, have cresty necks and/or fat pads, or have a matted or slow to shed coat, may be candidates for a future laminitic occurrence.
The prevalent opinion that protein causes laminitis and founder is not true. According to Dr. Juliet Getty, author of "Feed Your Horse Like a Horse", some of the main causes of laminitis are as follows:hormonal disorders, elevated insulin levels, obesity, genetic pre-laminitic syndrome, overfeeding of grain and sugar from sweet feeds, grazing on pasture that is high in sugar/starch/fructan, physical stress to feet, mental stress, forage restriction and thyroid disorders. Improper hoof trims over a prolonged period of time can also cause laminitis.
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