Which Cryotherapy Method Works Best for Cooling Hooves?
Continuous cooling of the hoof and its blood supply (cryotherapy) has been shown to prevent laminitis in at-risk horses. But which cooling method is most effective? Australian researchers recently evaluated several commonly used hoof-cooling methods to see how they compared.

“It’s important to cool the foot and the distal limb up to the fetlock or higher,” explained Andrew van Eps, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate professor in equine internal medicine at The University of Queensland, in Australia.

Current research recommends lowering the horse’s hoof temperature to 5-10°C (41-50°F) continuously for 48- to 72-hour periods (or longer, if required) to be effective.

“It appears that any method that allows immersion in ice and water to the level of the fetlock, or a little higher to the mid cannon, is ideal,” he added.

But which methods are best? In their study, Van Eps and colleagues evaluated the efficacy of several different hoof-cooling methods, including ice packs fastened to the hoof, ice boots, and intravenous (IV) fluid bags filled with ice and water.

Ice packs applied to the hoof lack a mechanism for continuously circulating the coolant in contact with the leg and did not appear to cool well, van Eps said.

Ice boots that include the hoof, while effective at cooling, can be both time-consuming and labor-intensive , he said: “Boots require restocking with ice generally every two hours or so, and it can be difficult to keep boots or bags on the limbs of horses.”

Ice boots that covered the lower limb, but not the hoof, were not effective in cooling the hoof’s temperature.

Van Eps determined that an effective and inexpensive option is reusing IV fluid bags by filling them with ice and water. With the infusion end removed, you can place the horse’s hoof in the bag, fill the bag with ice and water, and hold it in place using adhesive tape.

“They perform well and are cheap,” van Eps said. “You can get a heap of old bags from your veterinarian.”

Van Eps urged owners to consult their veterinarian to determine if cooling is warranted for their own horses and which method would be best for their particular scenario before trying it on their own.

“Further studies are required to determine the optimum systems and protocols for limb cooling in horses for the prevention and treatment of laminitis,” he concluded.

The study, “A comparison of seven methods for continuous therapeutic cooling of the equine digit,” was published in Equine Veterinary Journal.