Tap to Read ➤

How to Treat Founder Disease in Horses

Komal B. Patil
Founder disease is the progressed stage of the disease - laminitis. This disease is commonly observed in hoofed animals such as horses and cattle. While the exact cause and mechanism underlying this condition is still unknown, there are ways to manage and treat the condition, which are elaborated in this story.
Laminitis is the actual cause of the rotation of the coffin bone, and this state is termed as "founder".

Laminitis involves the disruption of the laminae structures that secure the coffin bone to the wall of the hoof. A chronic and untreated case of laminitis, causes the coffin bone, to rotate and sink in to the sole of the hoof.
In extreme cases, it may even perforate the sole. When such a rotation occurs, it is called founder, characterized by the horse's inability to walk. The mechanism of its occurrence is as yet unknown, it is believed that though the condition is observed in the hooves, its underlying cause stems from a disturbance in some other part of the animal body.
The probable causes for this condition include overweight horses, endotoxins released by gut bacteria, abrupt changes in diet,etc. If a horse is abruptly given access to lush forage, laminitis may develop, and this type is called "grass founder."
Also, if a horse suffers excessive concussion to its feet, it is called "road founder." Various foot diseases may also play a contributing role in the development of laminitis, and in turn, founder disease.

Probable Causes

◆ Overweight and obesity
◆ Unbalanced feet
◆ Hoof infections
◆ Trauma or injury to the hoof
◆ Insulin resistance
◆ Abrupt change in diet
◆ Intake of food with high starch and fructan content
◆ Endotoxins in the body
◆ Cushing's disease
◆ Imbalance in gut microbiota
◆ Cancer of the pituitary gland
◆ Excessive use of corticosterioids
It is posited that these incidents (causes) may give rise to laminitis by the production of toxins within the body or due to hormonal imbalance. Also being overweight (along with its underlying causes such as insulin resistance, excessive grazing, etc,), causes an increase in the load carried by each hoof, leading to mechanical injury.
These and other causes could have a cumulative effect that result in the inflammation of the hoof and dislodgement of the coffin bone, leading to a decreased blood flow.

Signs and Symptoms

● Inflammation and pain in hoof
● Inability to walk
● Pulsation in feet
● Rings in hoof wall
● Bruised and flat soles
● Uneven shape of hoof
● Constant weight shifting from one hoof to another
● Founder stance (it stands either with front legs spread out in front and hind legs brought under the body, or gathering and placing all four legs close together under the body.)


In case the horse exhibits any of these signs, one should immediately contact a veterinarian for a medical diagnosis. The sooner the condition is treated, the higher the chances of a full recovery. Treatment of this condition will include the following.
◾ Administering fluids
◾ Addressing any developed abscesses
◾ Pouring cold water over the hoof intermittently
◾ Identifying and rectifying the causative problem
◾ Administering an anti-inflammatory agent like phenybutazone
◾ Providing proper supportive footing and corrective trimming of hoof
◾ Converting the floor of the stable to soft ground, by spreading sand and stone shavings.
◾ Administering mineral oil via a nasogastric tube, to clear the digestive tract and any toxins present therein.
◾ Administering antibiotics to get rid of any infections, and anticoagulants (acepromazine) to increase and enhance blood flow to the feet.
In case of severe rotation of the coffin bone, the treatment may be prolonged. But if the condition persists with increasing pain and suffering to the horse, the pain could be alleviated by adopting surgical modification or by euthanizing the animal.

Management & Prevention

In case of horses that are chronically prone to developing founder disease, the following efforts could be undertaken to manage the condition.

▶ The horse's hooves should be regularly cleaned and trimmed by a qualified farrier.
▶ The weight of the horse should be kept in check, so as to prevent obesity and being overweight.
▶ Dietary supplements should be provided to prevent infections and deficiencies.
▶ Herbs that promote hoof growth and repair should be mixed in with the feed. They include rosehip, chamomile, garlic, etc.
▶ To avoid excessive feeding by means of grazing, a grazing muzzle should be used.
▶ Keep horse feed and other edibles securely away from the horses.
▶ Dietary changes, if any, must be carried out gradually over a period of time. The horse should be fed often with small quantities.
▶ Restrict the intake of a complex sugar called fructan by feeding grasses that are low in fructan, e.g. timothy, oat straw, and cocksfoot.
▶ Restrict and avoid the animal grazing on stressed grass. It refers to grass that has been cut for hay, has been frosted, or has grown in drought conditions. ▶ Avoid feeds with high starch and sugar content, instead replace them with substances rich in fiber and natural oils, e.g. chaff, alfalfa,etc.
When dealing with the possibility of laminitis, the veterinarian must be contacted as soon as possible, to prevent lasting damage to the animal. All the doctor's instructions must be followed strictly and precisely. Self-medicating and neglecting the horse should be avoided at all costs.