In this second installment of our special Horse-Health Q&A series with world-renowned veterinary practice Rood & Riddle, podiatry expert Dr. Raul Bras answers a few questions about Thoroughbred feet.
Dr. Bras discusses the all-too-familiar laminitis ailment to which Thoroughbreds are particularly susceptible, as well as the possible connection between systemic illness and development of hoof ailments, as well as and how to gauge a horse’s chances to founder.
A 2005 graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Bras has been a leading veterinarian at Rood & Riddle since joining the Podiatry Center as a fulltime associate in 2007. Before he arrived, he completed a yearlong internship at Rood & Riddle and trained in podiatry under the mentorship of Dr. Scott Morrison. He is also a graduate of the Cornell University Farrier School and is one of only five veterinarians in the United States to earn Journeyman Farrier certification from the American Farrier Association.
Q: People are always talking about a Thoroughbred’s feet. What are some of the most common hoof ailments Rood & Riddle treats, and do you have tips for spotting a potential problem before it worsens?
Laminitis is the most common hoof aliment treated by the Rood & Riddle podiatrists. Laminitis is the failure of the attachment between the distal phalanx (coffin bone) and the inner hoof wall causing unrelenting pain and characteristic lameness. It is the most serious disease of the equine hoof that can leads to devastating loss of function. In order to understand how to rehabilitate the laminitic horse we should have an understanding of the normal supporting structures of the digit, the disease process, and the structural failure that results.
Other common hoof ailments are foot infections from the usual abscess to more complicated infections involving vital structures such as the coffin bone (osteomyelitis), and/or synovial structures (coffin joint, navicular bursa) due to puncture wounds.
Some of the common hoof ailments in racehorses are quarter cracks due medial/lateral imbalance, sole bruising (more commonly on the heel region), and coffin bone fractures. These ailments in the racehorse are most likely due to their strenuous training regimen, and thin sole, low heel, long toe syndrome, which is very common.
A general tip for spotting a potential problem before it worsens is maintaining routine foot care regimen. Some of the clinical signs are lameness, increased digital pulses, swelling, heat, draining tracts, and evidence of hoof injuries.
Q: Could you please explain how an illness elsewhere in the body can have such devastating effects on the feet?
Despite significant research and recent findings over the past decade, a complete understanding of laminitis and its complex pathophysiologic processes remains uncertain. Before the clinical signs of foot pain present, the horse usually experiences other systemic illness in organs anatomically remote from the foot, such as gastrointestinal tract (grain overload, colic, diarrhea), respiratory (pneumonia), reproductive (retained placenta, metritis), vascular insult (ischemia, endotoxemia), renal, endocrine (metabolic syndrome), musculoskeletal (contralateral laminitis), and immune disorders. Lamellar tissues of the feet are exposed to triggering factors, which lead to separation and disorganization of lamellar anatomy. The exact nature of these factors reaching the lamellar tissues via the circulation has yet to be clarified.
Q: Are Thoroughbred feet more vulnerable than other breeds to developing ailments?
Thoroughbred horses are equally vulnerable as other breeds to develop laminitis, but due to some issues with poor hoof quality they are more vulnerable to the complications of foundering with a lower success outcome. Thoroughbred’s feet are considered to have a thinner sole/wall, or in general terms to have “weaker” feet. Low-grade chronic laminitis seems to be very common in thoroughbred horses, and these are the horses that will go unnoticed until further complications arise (lameness). Abnormal hoof growth is a common finding in the low-grade chronic laminitic horse with evidence of more heel growth compared to the toe (dorsal hoof wall) with a dished dorsal hoof wall and toe cracks. There are two components to the management of the foot; the trim and the therapeutic shoe. The goal of the trim is to establish the distal phalanx alignment, and to balance or even weight distribution. The therapeutic shoes are designed to offer support, ease break over in all directions, and to address the pull of the deep digital flexor tendon.