Founder In Horses

Founder In Horses

Difficulties in Preventing and Treating Founder in Horses


Founder in horses is one of the most difficult equine diseases to treat. It usually affects one the horse’s feet or hooves, but it can on occasion affect two or more.  Another term for founder in horses is laminitis. The terms laminitis and founder are often used interchangeably. What actually happens, however, is that one condition leads to the other. Laminitis occurs first and the damage it can create can lead to a condition known as founder. When this has occurred a horse is said to have foundered or it is a foundered horse. Put another way, laminitis is a disease and founder is a condition that results from a severe episode of that disease. In some quarters, laminitis is referred to as being the lowest level or least severe type of founder.


Multiple Known and Unknown Causes 


There are many different causes of this disease. Very often the exact cause is unknown. This can of course make the disease difficult to treat, not to mention the challenges involved in trying to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. It would be nearly impossible and certainly impractical to remove all the possible causes from a horse’s presence. Sometimes the cause can be traced to pasture grass, at other times hay or hay pellets may be the cause, and still at other times   the bedding used in a horse’s stall may be a contributor. A systemic infection can cause the disease, as can the ingestion of too much water that is too cold. In some instances, cases of founder have been traced back to a combination of things. To make things even more complicated, what causes founder in one horse will not necessarily cause it in another horse that lives in the exact same environment. In addition, some horses will respond to a certain type of treatment whereas other horses may not. A few horses will not respond well to any type of treatment.


A Known Cause, but What Causes the Cause?


Founder in horses is usually a result of a chemical imbalance. This imbalance does not occur in the hoof or foot, but elsewhere in the horse’s body. It causes the blood supply to the foot to be restricted. This affects the lamina. These are tissues that attach the outer hoof wall to the softer inner foot capsule. Because of the restricted blood supply the lamina begin to die. The attachment of the outer hoof wall to the inner foot capsule begins to loosen. In severe cases the attachment can tear away completely and the coffin bone, an internal bone in the foot, may sink deeply into the hoof. This can be extremely painful to the horse and it can sometimes result in lameness. In some instances it can result in the death of a horse as a horse cannot usually live long if it cannot support itself equally on all four legs. Founder is a seafaring term. When a ship sinks bow first it is said to have foundered. When the coffin bone is allowed to rotate because the lamina has become detached, instead of pointing towards the front or toe of the hoof, it begins to point downward.


Laminitis and founder can happen very quickly, and there are usually no outward symptoms until the horse begins favoring one foot. Founder can sometimes only be diagnosed by an x-ray, which will normally tell if the bones in the foot have become misaligned.


Treatment Can Involve More Than a Single Person


To treat cases of founder, the services of an expert on the subject are usually required. That person is often a farrier, one who does horseshoeing and hoof trimming. A veterinarian will usually also be able to treat the condition effectively. Very often the services of both types of professionals will need to be called upon. Each case of founder is usually different from the next, and a farrier may have to try more than one type of trimming or shoeing before determining what will work best for the horse. In the most severe cases, the recommendation is sometimes made that a horse be put down, although most horse owners are very reluctant to do so as long as there appears to be some hope of a favorable outcome.


A Difficult Situation for All Concerned


Unfortunately, there is no one best way to treat or manage the condition. It can sometimes take months for the horse to heal, and some horses never do. Unless a possible cause has been determined, there may be a recurrence of the condition at some later time. In many cases, the expense of treating founder in horses can become quite significant over time. The horse owner needs to be aware of this possibility and also should be aware of the fact that a horse having the condition will often require many hours of attention during recovery. The entire process can take an emotional toll on the horse’s owner. Founder is one of the most difficult of all equine disorders to treat. The disease is hard on the horse, difficult for the owner to have to deal with, and challenging to those charged with trying to cure the condition.