There is often much confusion about the relationship between laminitis and founder. Because so much mystery still surrounds these diseases, and because of their debilitating reputation, many horse owners find themselves unsure of exactly what this diagnosis might mean for their horses.
Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae in a horse?s foot. The laminae are responsible for supporting the suspended coffin bone. When the laminae are inflamed, they stretch and separate, causing immediate pain to the horse. This is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinary attention. Horses with laminitis will often have a warm hoof, pulsing digital artery, and will show signs of anxiety and lameness. They often attempt to shift their weight off the affected feet, often putting their hind feet underneath them and pointing their front feet forward. They may walk sensitively, as if on eggshells, and may try to lay down more than usual.
Founder refers to the condition that develops after a bout with laminitis. When the laminae stretch and no longer support the coffin bone properly, it can rotate forward or even sink. Founder is the chronic condition in a horse where this rotation or sinking has occurred. With corrective shoeing and hoof supplements, many foundered horses can enjoy a normal working life. The key is to find a farrier experienced in dealing with this condition, and who can work closely with your veterinarian.
There are many suspected causes of laminitis, but the most common issue seems to be related to feed. There is newly emerging evidence that some horses have a metabolic predisposition to laminitis, with an insulin-resistant condition similar to Type II diabetes in humans. Once a horse has had a bout of laminitis, or has foundered, it is essential to always be on guard for a possible recurrence.