Addressing the causes and condition

Laminitis is a common condition that can cause a wide range of foot pain in livestock. The condition can strike in horses, goats, sheep, pigs and cattle. Laminitis is most frequently seen in intensively managed dairy herds. 

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis, sometimes called Founder, is inflammation of the laminar corium of an animal’s hoof. These layers of sensitive tissue within the hoof become swollen due to a variety of causes. “As inflammation impacts this inner layer of the hoof, pain and discomfort result,” Rosslyn Biggs, DVM, assistant clinical professor, director of continuing education and beef cattle extension specialist at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, explained.

The animal’s hooves then start to grow abnormally. “This breakdown and inflammation of the hoof predisposes the hoof to other problems like sole ulcers, cracks and infections,” Dr. Biggs added. Lameness is the primary clinical sign an animal has laminitis.

What are the Causes? 

There are many potential direct and indirect causes of laminitis. The most common cause is nutrition. A high protein diet with a low amount of forage can lead to subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA). Subacute ruminal acidosis is a metabolic disease characterized by the accumulation of lactic acid in the rumen. The result can be physiological implications such as laminitis. 

Other predisposing causes of laminitis include diseases such as mastitis, metritis and rumen acidosis. Experts say in the cases of rumen acidosis, an animal’s pH drops causing rumen bacteria to produce toxins. Those toxins can pass through the rumen wall causing blood vessels in the hooves to swell.

In addition, management practices can cause animals to develop laminitis. Factors such as poor housing, lack of bedding that encourages cows to lay down and prolonged standing on concrete floors can all contribute to cattle contracting the condition.

Other potential causes include trauma to the hoof, rough footing, excessive walking, calving stress, age, growth, genetics, conformation and behavior.

What is the Impact?

In dairy cattle laminitis is often seen during peak lactation. Laminitis is a painful condition. 

The pain from laminitis can negatively influence milk production, reproductive performance, as well as weight gain and weight maintenance. Laminitis also impacts the overall performance and welfare of the animal.

How can it be Prevented?

There are management practices producers can put in place to protect their animals from laminitis. “Nutritional management is the best prevention,” Dr. Biggs stated. “Consultation with the veterinarian and dairy nutritionist is important.” Producers should also ensure animals receive a balanced ration that will help maintain a healthy pH within the rumen. 

Additionally, dairy producers should provide soft bedding and enough area for animals to lay down comfortably. Hoof trimming and care are also essential. Producers should also conduct regular evaluations of their animals’ feet. 

What is the Treatment?

Treatment for laminitis requires producers address some of the causes of the condition. For example, correcting inadequate nutrition, creating improved housing and bedding, implementing genetic selection and installing rubber mats for shock absorption in stalls and walkways.

Producers can also make sure their animals’ hooves are trimmed and cared for appropriately. Dr. Biggs said in some cases pain medications may be warranted. In addition, make sure the animal is treated for any secondary infections.


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