Q: My pony has come down with a bad case of laminitis for the first time and the farrier has asked me to get some xrays of the feet before he trims her. Is it usual for farriers to ask for xrays and can you tell me what use they will be to him? I thought xrays were only for broken bones!
Sarah, Hawkes Bay
Answer: Sorry to hear about the laminitis. This can be a painful and debilitating condition which affects the feet. More commonly associated with front feet only, laminitis can affect any or all of the feet at one time. I would guess that the farrier doesn’t suspect any broken bones but is asking for xrays to see what’s going on inside the hoof capsule.
It’s vital for the hooves to be balanced and dressed to reduce the amount of damage that can occur. During the initial stages of the condition, the risk of the pedal bone in the hoof moving within the hoof capsule should always be of concern. As a result of the compromised structures within the hoof during an episode of laminitis, the pedal bone sometimes rotates within the foot and in more serious cases, can also sink downwards towards the sole.
The mechanical effects of correct and appropriate trimming for the condition can have a significant impact on the severity of rotation of the pedal bone and therefore the amount of pain experienced by the pony.
If your farrier is asking for xrays then that’s a good sign for starters. It’s likely he’ll want to assess the position of the pedal bone relative to the hoof wall, solar surface and the point of the frog in a hope to trim the foot to help realign the angles relative to the position of the bone. This will be likely be done with consultation and input from the vet.
Most often than not in these cases, the trimming that is required when rotation has occurred involves the lowering of the heels and dressing of the dorsal (front) wall along with many of the elements of a regular trim for this pony. The amount of trimming will be indicated by what is shown by the xrays and the interpretation of what is ideal.
The vet will usually have placed markers on certain parts of the foot before xray to make it easier to assess the true point of frog, the angle of the outer wall and also the height of the coronary band so they can assess if the pedal bone has moved. These markers also make it easier to compare subsequent xrays at a later date.
In an ideal world, the farrier will work alongside the vet to ascertain the trim that is required from the xrays and following the trim, fresh xrays taken to check if suitable angles have been achieved to help reduce the effects of the condition and make the pony more comfortable in the long-term.
It’s important to call the vet as soon as possible with any suspected case of laminitis. The earlier treatment is started, the better the prognosis.
Good luck, David Hankin Dip.WCF
This question and answer first appeared in NZ Horse & Pony magazine in April 2011