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Swing into Spring! Tips to Prevent Founder in Horses

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founder in horses

Spring is approaching...a time when the grass turns green, the flowers bloom, and the sun shines. While it may be picturesque to see our horses out grazing on lush spring pasture, an abrupt switch from hay and brown pasture over the winter to the green grass of spring can cause a major disruption in the horse's GI flora potentially causing colic and/or founder in horses.

What is Founder?

Founder, also known as laminitis, may be caused by several things, one of which is an abrupt change in diet, especially consumption of lush green grass. The high soluble carbohydrate content (sugars) in the grass will allow overgrowth of "bad" bacteria and death of the "good" normal bacteria in the GI tract. While the exact mechanism is still up for debate, toxins are released that attack the lamina, which is the soft tissue structure that attaches the hoof to the bone. When this attachment is damaged, it causes a lot of pain and possible sinking and rotation of the bone within the hoof. Treatment of laminitis is complicated and costly.  Prevention is the key.

Founder Prevention

  • Preventing founder in a normal horse with no predisposing factors (like prior episodes of founder, Cushing's Disease, Metabolic Syndrome, or Insulin Resistance) is simply a matter of making diet changes gradually. Even if your horse has been out on pasture all winter, the grass can turn green very quickly and cause founder. In this case, you should start feeding hay prior to the grass turning green, as a buffer. Then you can gradually decrease the amount of hay fed as the grass grows and gets greener.
  • If your horse has been strictly on hay and in a dry lot with no access to pasture over the winter, initially you will want to continue feeding your horse the same as you have been. In the morning, feed hay as usual, and decrease the concentrate (grain) by about 50%. This will allow him to fill up on hay prior to turnout. Then turn your horse out on grass for a couple hours each day for a week. Feed hay again as usual in the evening. The second week, turn him out for four to six hours a day. The third week, turn him out all day. This will give the bacteria in his GI tract time to adjust.
This schedule is a generalization, and can be tailored depending on how quickly the grass is turning green and your horse's predisposing factors. As always, talk to your veterinarian for specific advice regarding your individual horse.

Supplementing your horse with a microbial supplement such as Manna Pro Opti-Zyme will not only help your horse during these diet changes but will also help promote optimal digestion every day of the year.

See what horse owners are saying about Opti-Zyme!

"My usually happy-go-lucky horse began having digestive issues...After two episodes of colic, my vet recommended Opti-zyme with his feed. Wow! What a marvelous difference it has made. His eating habits have reverted back to normal and no more colic issues. I am thrilled with Opti-Zyme because I now have my happy-go-lucky horse that looks and feels great!" -Tara R. Chesterfield, MO.

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Dr. Shannon Baker DVM

Dr. Shannon Baker DVM

Dr. Shannon Baker graduated from the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002 with her DVM degree. After vet school, she completed an Equine Internship at MU. She currently owns Heartland Veterinary Services, a full service equine ambulatory practice with an emphasis in equine dentistry.


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