Managing Laminitic Horses Using Radiographs

A veterinary podiatrist explains how X rays can be a useful tool for managing horses with chronic laminitis.
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Taking Radiographs of Horse Hoof
Regularly radiographing a horse’s feet can help veterinarians monitor chronic laminitis and help catch episodes early. | Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Q. I have a mare who mildly foundered this summer and with veterinary intervention is recovering well. My vet recommended we start taking regular radiographs of her feet to stay ahead of potential issues. How often would you recommend taking radiographs to help prevent episodes or catch problems early? What else can I do to stay ahead of future complications?

A. That’s a great question, and the answer is very case-dependent. Some horses with laminitis are shod with radiographic guidance every time to ensure proper shoe placement and to track progress. However, in cases where we are monitoring a stable horse, I like to have new radiographs every six months to once a year. Radiographs are great tools for picking up on subtle changes before they become an acute event, but they are only a snapshot in time, so sequential radiographs will help show progression of disease and effectiveness of treatment.

The most useful time to recheck radiographs is directly before or after shoeing. Before shoeing allows your farrier to see what is available for the trim and gives them insight into how the last shoeing cycle has altered growth in the foot. X rays immediately post-shoeing allow your farrier to see how the trimming and shoeing have altered the position of the coffin bone in relation to the ground and the hoof capsule.

Taking recurrent radiographs is especially important in horses with metabolic issues, as they often experience subclinical laminitis with rotation (of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule), exhibiting only subtle external signs. This will allow your farrier to be proactive in making changes before lameness becomes an issue.

With laminitis, prevention is key. When your veterinarian does your horse’s biannual vaccines, make sure to ask about any concerns you have involving weight or metabolic status. Radiographs can help you be sure significant damage isn’t already present. If your vet recommends doing so, draw blood for metabolic testing and make necessary dietary changes to help manage metabolic issues going forward.

Keeping a close eye on changes in your horse can be the difference between a long healthy life and one that is cut short from the painful disease that is laminitis, and radiographs can help your veterinarian monitor these changes.

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Craig Lesser, DVM, CF, graduated from Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in 2015. Following the completion of an internship at Anoka Equine Veterinary Services, in Elk River, Minnesota, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to complete a podiatry fellowship at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, continued with the hospital as an associate, and is now a shareholder. As an extension of podiatry, Lesser has an interest in lameness and imaging. He also enjoys teaching, volunteering, performing research, and continuing to further his education. Outside of practicing veterinary medicine, he enjoys outdoor activities, including skiing, riding horses, and spending time with his dog, Jameson.

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