Laminitis / Founder

Carol Raczykowski
Reviewed by Dr. Steven Parish, Washington State University

(Reprinted from Pygmy Goat WORLD magazine with permission)

When most people think of laminitis or founder, they are reminded of overindulged ponies or horses. Although it is mainly an equine problem, goats are susceptible to founder as well. Goat owners need to be aware of the serious risks involved.

Although no one knows exactly why laminitis occurs there are several situations that predispose a goat to laminitis. It can occur following severe bacterial infections or as a result of diet. For example, if the goat consumes excessive levels of highly fermentable feed, possibly causing acidosis, or when it is fed heavy concentrate rations. Laminitis has also been noted as a complication to many other diseases (most associated with kidding) such as mastitis, metritis (uterine infection), retained placenta, enterotoxemia or even pneumonia.

Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive tissue (laminae) which lies below the layer of horn which covers the hoof (see figure 1). This swelling of nerve-laden tissues in a confined space is extremely painful and creates lameness in the goat. In acute laminitis the feet may be sore and hot and in chronic laminitis the hoof may be malformed and overgrown. Part of the malformation is the body's response to the recurring inflammation. The hoof wall thickens and there may be a distortion of the new horny growth of the hoof. The feet may become overgrown with the toes turned upwards.

Affected goats may grind their teeth in pain and refuse to walk or stand on their painful feet. There may be a slight fever caused by the underlying infectious diseases and the hoofs may be warm or hot to the touch. Some goats may walk on their knees or stand with their back legs tucked up under the torso. This stance is due to the desire to take the pressure off the most painful forefeet.

Diagnosis of acute laminitis is done by examining the feet, checking for heat, and ruling out other causes for lameness, including footrot or puncture wounds. Management history (diet) and disease factors are looked into and with chronic laminitis. The hooves are examined for abnormal growth, ruling out simple neglect and taking into consideration other diseases, such as CAE (arthritis) that may cause the goat to walk on its knees.

Treatment/prevention, even before veterinary care, is to feed limited quantities of concentrates and grain. Some severe cases do not respond well to treatment, but nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will help, as well as analgesics to reduce pain, allowing the animal to remain mobile. To promote circulation, the animals should exercise and the richness of the feed should be reduced during recovery.

In chronic laminitis more frequent foot trimming will help, as well as changes in diet, including a reduction of grain and avoiding any sudden ration changes. If high energy rations are necessary (hair or milk production) additional buffers such as sodium bicarbonate can be added to the diet free choice to avoid acidosis. Aggressive treatment of any predisposing diseases such as metritis, acidosis, dehydration or bacterial toxemias is necessary. Increased frequency of  hoof trimming is also an aid in dealing with laminitis. It may take several months for the feet to form a normal hoof wall.

Mild forms of laminitis can go unnoticed for some time so be aware of its existence and look for any potential symptoms. Reoccurrence of this problem is also a possibility.

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