Laminitis: Physical Management Discussed at Vet Conference

Adjusting a laminitic horse's weight bearing plays a crucial role in the animal's recovery, explained Debra Ruffin Taylor, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, of Auburn University, at the 2010 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 14-18 in Las Vegas, Nev.

"I want to take whatever corium integrity that is left, and I want to put it in a situation to promote healing," said Taylor. "But I can't do that with drugs alone. I need to consider the mechanics."

There are several mechanical problems owners can address to relieve some of the weight that the horse is bearing down on injured tissue.

She suggested taking the horse off the hard ground and putting him on dry sand or pea gravel. Taylor likes small pea gravel better than dry sand, because the sand can get wet and harden like cement. If a horse with laminitis stands on pea gravel or dry sand, he usually puts his toe down into the gravel lower than the heel. This relieves some of the tension in the deep flexor tendon.

"When they extend their elbow, they are telling you that 'deep flexor tension is bothering me right now, and I have to extend my elbow to escape it.' If you are winning over laminitis, they will quit standing like that," she noted.

She uses impression materials with shoes, hoof boots and casts, and soft hoof pads under the boot, shoe or cast. Her favorite padding material is a wrestling mat cut to the shape of the foot. She often cuts a hole in the wrestling mat under the tip of the coffin bone to relieve pressure on regions with very thin sole.

Many hoof care systems for laminitic horses have common mechanics. Each of these will remove some (or all) of the forces on the hoof wall. Some of these systems also help decrease tension in the deep flexor tendon.

A horse at risk for contralateral limb laminitis needs to move so that he occasionally steps off the sounder limb. As soon as he is able, make sure he takes a few steps throughout the day.

"Even 10 steps four to six times a day makes a big difference," she said. "When the horse is bearing his full weight on a limb, there is no blood flowing into that limb." Releasing the weight bearing increases blood flow.

Another exercise that might help is to rock the horse's sound leg a little so that it lifts up this foot or at least releases the tension in the tendon.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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