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Alternative Methods of Treating Laminitis


By Vickey M. Hollingsworth, DAEP

It was 2004 and I was learning a costly and painful lesson in equine lameness. It was a lesson that would shape my career, transforming the future for thousands of horses. On a rainy spring day, radiographs hung on the lightboard, bloodwork gave a grim look at the future, and my endurance racing dream circled the drain. My young, talented mare was beginning her new life as a founder survivor, and I was in shock. There were too many questions and no answers. At this crossroads, I saw an opportunity to pursue a career in hoof care so that other owners would have hope.

After an apprenticeship in Wisconsin with a certified farrier, I attended clinics from the East Coast to Midwest and earned a Degreed Applied Equine Podiatrist certification on scholarship from the Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry, based in Ocala, Florida. I have since completed courses on composite shoeing and lameneness rehabilitation with world renowned farriers, such as Daisy Bicking and Dr. Esco Buff. In 2015 I lived outside Boston, Massachusetts providing hoof care to horses on the East Coast. Now based west of Nashville, Tennessee, I am excited to work with horse owners across the Southern region!

When rehabilitating laminitic horses, it is critical for the horse owner, hoof care provider, and veterinarian to work together using a method of whole horse care. Composite horseshoe materials combined with a specific trimming protocol helps get performance horses back to their job. Upon first recognition of laminitic symptoms, radiographs from the lateral aspect (side view) should be performed by the attending veterinarian. Visualizing solar depth, degeneration, palmar angle of the coffin bone, and the degree of rotation is an excellent way to balance the trim effectively. Blood work is usually performed to check glucose and insulin levels, as well as a hormone called Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH). The presence of elevated ACTH can cause laminitis and is common in older horses. Treatment is important in controlling symptoms.

Chronic abscessing usually accompanies laminitis, so addressing hoof or frog infection is important. Appropriate diet, suitable turnout areas, and gentle exercise are recommended. Hoof boots and foam or gel pads offer an alternative to barefoot and metal shoeing.

Laminitis and founder are actually two separate conditions. Similar to the way all Paints are Pintos but not all Pintos are Paints, all founders are laminitic, but not all laminitics are foundered. In simpler terms: laminitis is inflammation of lamellar tissue inside the hoof capsule, and founder indicates the coffin bone and hoof capsule have rotated or moved away from one another, tearing soft tissue. Determining the degree of rotation can give strong indication of the prognosis and protocol implemented. The more severe the rotation, the more difficult the rehabilitation.

Laminitis is classified as metabolic or mechanical. Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID or Cushings Disease), Equine Metabolic Syndrome, or other systemic insults like poisoning or retained placenta can cause laminitis. Mechanical forces such as improper trimming and shoeing, tumors called keratomas inside the hoof, or working on hard footing can cause mechanical laminitis.

Laminitis can present acutely with sudden severe pain, or with gradual sub-clinical symptoms. Acute hoof pain in a previously sound horse requires immediate veterinary intervention.  Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Bute, Banamine, or intravenous DMSO are often prescribed. Applying foam pads and soaking hay to reduce sugar provide additional treatment. Feet can be soaked in ice water to reduce heat and inflammation. In cases of sub-clinical laminitis, footsore symptoms may be present for months or even years. Sore on hard footing, sensitive to feed changes, a cresty neck with fat pads, and increased hoof heat and arterial digital pulse all indicate low-grade laminitis.

As the acute or sub-clinical horse becomes chronic, long-term hoof support such as booting or shoeing is recommended. Boots and pads provide an excellent alternative to nailing horseshoes onto horses that cannot tolerate the concussion, or standing on one leg. Boots are effective because support can be changed daily, as laminitic horses usually experience rapid heel growth, slow toe growth, and abscesses. Glue-on composite shoes may be used later to protect sensitive soles. Analgesic hoof packing containing arnica, capcaisian, epsom salt and iodine applied inside the shoes or boots provide a sole freezing effect. Supplements supporting healthy hoof growth are used to round out the diet. Chiropractic, message, and stretching help overcome postural deficits and muscle soreness caused by a compromised stance. In summary, prognosis is greatly improved by implementing alternative methods for the laminitic horse!

About the author: Vickey Hollingsworth is the owner of High Performance Hoof Care, LLC. Vickey has been providing hoof care services since 2004, and is a 2007 graduate of the Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry.  Services offered include barefoot trimming, glue-on polyurethane shoeing, hoof boot fitting and sales, and lameness rehabilitation. Find more information at:

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