Chronic Laminitis Can Increase Risk of Foot Infection

Because laminitis compromises the equine foot so drastically, horses with the disease are more prone to foot infections and abscesses. During the Sept. 17-18 Laminitis West Conference in Monterey, Calif., Bob Agne, DVM, an equine podiatrist at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., discussed how to diagnose and treat such infections.

The structural damage that results from laminitis restricts blood flow to the foot, which makes infection more difficult to fight. Agne said that the stretched and scarred white line in laminitic horses is particularly susceptible to infection.

Nail in Hoof

Penetrating wounds, such as this nail puncture in the central sulcus, are particularly dangerous.

"The scar tissue is moist and lacks normal blood flow, and consequently is a prime medium for bacterial growth and infection," Agne said.

Hoof infections threaten normal horses as well and usually present with the typical signs of inflammation, Agne said, which include lameness, swelling, heat, draining tracts, increased digital pulse, and/or possible evidence of hoof injuries.

When diagnosing foot infections, Agne stressed, it's essential to determine whether they are superficial or also involve deeper structures. That allows a veterinarian to prescribe the best treatment plan and give an accurate prognosis. If the infection involves the coffin and/or navicular bone, coffin joint, tendon sheath, collateral cartilages, and/or navicular bursa, the prognosis will be more guarded.

Penetrating wounds (such as nail punctures) are particularly dangerous.

"Evidence of a penetrating wound always carries the possibility of deep infection," said Agne. "Penetrating wounds, especially in the caudal (rear) portion of the foot, are medical emergencies. If they are left untreated for over 12 hours, the prognosis for a return to soundness decreases significantly."

When an object penetrates the foot, owners often ask their vets if they should remove the object.

"Usually what I tell people is if there is any chance that the object can cause further damage--be driven up into sensitive structures--take it out," Agne said. "If you're absolutely sure it's not going to cause any more damage, you can leave it in until the veterinarian gets there."

The goals for treating foot infections, Agne said, should be to debride any dead tissue, maintain drainage, apply antibiotic therapy, provide protection, support the surrounding healthy tissue, and protect the contralateral (opposite left/right) foot from laminitis.

Of course, as with all equine health concerns, prevention is the best option. To reduce the chances of a horse getting a hoof infection, an owner should keep the horse on a regular trimming and shoeing schedule, pay close attention to hoof health, and maintain a healthy environment. The latter can be as simple as checking a pasture for objects that a horse could step on.

"Run a magnet along (the ground at) fence lines," said Agne. "You could save the life of a horse just by getting nails out of the pastures." 

About the Author

Tracy Gantz

Tracy Gantz is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the Southern California correspondent for The Blood-Horse and a regular contributor to Paint Horse Journal, Paint Racing News, and Appaloosa Journal.

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