Thursday, December 22, 2011

DIY Founder Care: Laminitis Explained & Treated, Farmer-Style

Mr. Strut has foundered.

I can't freakin' believe it. It's the middle of winter!

Let me step back and explain. "Founder" is the layman's term for laminitis, a disease that's still not entirely understood. I usually explain it to non-horsey people as "sudden, extreme diabetes." The horse's insulin levels become unbalanced. The horse's "laminae" deteriorate-- and since that's the stuff that attaches the horse's bones to its hoof, that's bad. The coffin bone (biggest bone inside the hoof) begins to sink and/or rotate downwards. Obviously, bones rotating on their own is pretty damn painful. Instant lameness results.

Laminitis is caused by... well, scientists aren't exactly sure what it's caused by. We do know that several things can be involved:
  • Eating too many carbs all at once -- like a horse that gets into the feed room and eats a bin-full of feed.
  • Lots of hoof impact on hard surfaces -- like trotting on a paved road for extended periods.
  • Eating really fresh green grass in spring-- because the grass has lots of sugar/carbs (disrupts insulin). This is the most common cause of founder.
  • Eating very rich hay, like pure alfalfa hay.
  • Being overweight.
  • Being insulin resistant (diabetic).
  • Poor blood circulation (possibly due to lack of movement).
  • Overly long hooves.
  • Recently foaling.
Mr. Strut has foundered before, on rich spring grass, because I had been sick (and lazy) and not gotten him fenced into a smaller pasture in time. However, it's a mystery to me why he should do it now. What grass is left out there certainly isn't rich. The hay he's getting (half of a bale per day) is, as I have previously mentioned, is pretty grassy. He hasn't gotten into the feed room, and in fact he's only gotten grain once in a while lately, certainly not every day.

He is overweight-- after being let off the small pasture in late summer, he really beefed up out on the big pasture. He's also got semi-long toes, remnants of his previous founder episode and, I suspect, a life of being trimmed for maximum action (gaited breeds are often kept with long toes, because the horses must then pick up their feet higher when they move, looking fancier). Plus, maybe the hay is just a bit rich-- it's not pure grass, after all. Finally, he is on hard surfaces. I haven't ridden him in six months or more, but since his hay, heated water tank and shelter are all on concrete, and he tends to hang out there instead of in the pasture, so maybe that's not helping.

The problem is, Annie is also overweight, eating the same stuff and hanging around the same concrete barn area, and she's totally fine.*sigh*

I'm doing what can be done, which is:

I know these look ridiculous, but they're honestly vet-recommended, I swear. They're just foam board insulation, cut into hoof shapes, then duct-taped to Mr. Strut's foundered feet (being careful not to wrap the coronet band, as this will cut off circulation to the hoof). You can buy specially made foam pads from the vet, but even the vet admits foam insulation is way cheaper and just as effective. The foam gives his feet lots of cushion, so he's in less pain. They also help him move his weight to his back feet, by raising his front end. Finally, by filing the bottom front of each pad into an angle, they reduce the angle of breakover when he walks, putting less pressure on his longish toes.

I also got some Bute from the vet. Mr. Strut will have to be on it for about a week. Hopefully by then the worst of his symptoms will be gone. If not, he gets more Bute-- and probably probiotics, since too much Bute can cause stomach problems. (Ugh, please Lord, let's not have a colic on top of this mess.)

Mr. Strut takes his Bute like a gentleman, but then spends the next hour making funny faces about the taste.

Finally, Mr. Strut is wearing a blanket, because although its absurdly warm for December in Wisconsin (30s with very little precipitation), since he isn't moving around as much because he's hurting, it's harder for him to stay warm.

Oh, and I almost forgot the most important part!

Since diet is the main cause of founder, Mr. Strut is going to get a dietary overhaul. The first day I knew for sure he was foundering, he got nothing at all. He still had access to poor forage in the pasture to fill his tummy, but no hay. Today he and Annie are sharing a half of a bale. I'll continue to keep their hay ration a bit short until they've lost some weight, or it gets cold enough so that they really need the extra calories. Neither of them are going to get any grain or treats until I'm sure we're out of danger. That makes me sad-- no extra Christmas treats for them! Oh well. It's not like they're aware of holidays. What I'd kind of like to do is get some lower-quality hay; older and grassier, less potentially founder-causing. Unfortunately, the barn is stuffed full, buying hay in winter is always a pain as well as more expensive, and I'm wary about buying older hay. While the lower-calorie diet may help, dust and mold can cause nasty problems too. Maybe I should look into alfalfa cubes? Since they're alfalfa, I doubt they'd be less rich than my hay though.

Throughout the whole process, Annie loves to "help," especially by trying to squeeze into the tack room to see what I'm doing.

This is more impressive than it looks; she had to climb up a set of stairs to get this far.

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