How Quickly Can A Horse Founder On Grass?

Jessica McDaniel
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How Quickly Can a Horse Founder on Grass?

Founder is a tragically common ailment to which any breed of horse can be susceptible, and the trait has been present in the horse for centuries.

Although it has been determined to be a breed predilection, primarily with Arabians and Quarter Horses, you can have three perfectly healthy horses in the field, then somebody stuffs one of them in a tight stall, feeds it grain and three days later, it founders, dies and/or must be euthanized.

Founder is a metabolic disturbance that occurs when the entire system is not functioning normally, and affects more than the feet. It is an acute onset or suddenly acquired disorder of unknown cause for which there is no cure, although it can be successfully managed.

Fatalities from founder occur rapidly, and have been reported from ingesting small amounts of grain in a few hours, although it is the exception rather than the rule.

So the question remains; how quickly can a horse founder on grass?

The health and nutritional status of the horse, along with underlying or coexisting illnesses are the key ingredients in the production of metabolic disorders such as founder.

The factors of degree of grass intake, exercise level, the amount of grain and its quality, along with underlying illnesses, both microbial and non-microbial, are in the vast majority of cases, the determining factors in every case of founder.

Symptoms of Founder

The symptoms of founder in horses is weight loss, lethargy, glazing of the eyes, swelling of the lower legs, heat sensitivity and unwillingness to work. A horse that is foundering may hide by standing in the water or mud. The horse may also hold one or both front legs off the ground due to pain. A horse that is foundering may get up and move forward normally one day, but be listless the next.

A main sign of founder in horses is a hollowing out of the thoracic cavity and filling of the abdomen. This can be seen after the x-rays have been developed or an ultrasound has been performed.

The Rate at which Grass Can Cause Horses to Founder

When a horse consumes a large amount of grass (way beyond the capacity of its digested system and beyond the natural urge to consume grass) on consecutive days, it can easily founder. Impaction colics usually occur when the body is overloaded with too much glucose. Grass can rapidly cause impaction and unfortunately, it can cause death.

So how quickly can grass cause a horse to founder? It can happen quite quickly, as you will read in this story from the mailbag.

But generally, the main concern is whether the horse will lose ground or gain time. Many horses are given 100% grass diets and thrive without problem. As the nutritionist, you are responsible for making sure the horse is able to handle the extra work. Grass is too rich for a horse not conditioned for its intake.

If there's no problem, then it's not a problem and if there are some issues, but not many, then feed the little guy a bit more food. But if it's every day, then you have to consider a different approach.

Ways to Prevent Founder

Founder is a disease that causes inflammation of the fatty tissue in the hooves and characterized by lameness, swelling and heat at the hoof. Few things are more distressing than finding a horse with hoof pain and it's important to know how to recognize this condition before it affects your horse.

The most common locations or hoof problems that can lead to founder are unbalanced hoof conformation, hoof resection, sole surface damage, unsoundness, and nutritional problems.

If a horse is nervous, stressed, or worked too hard on soft footing, he can overtire and founder. A diet too high in sugar and/or starch can result in founder. Founder is very common during the summer due to the increased grass eating put on horses.

Another symptom of founder is the presence of digital pulses in the feet. Horses that feel the least pain while standing will have the least pain.

How to Prevent Founder

  • — Provide plenty of clean, dry bedding.
  • — For those horses who seem to founder easily, rotate them with other horses to prevent overgrazing of any one pasture.
  • — Make sure the horse does not get too fat and keep his fat level 6 inches or more below the point of tail.

Grass Founder in Horses

Founder, or laminitis, refers to the inflammation of the sensitive tissues (laminae) within the hoof. When this happens, extreme pain is immediately felt by the horse. Consequently, the horse will adopt a “foundered” stance (stepping with the small toe first) to minimize its weight on the lame foot. If the laminitis is bilateral, the horse will be reluctant to move.

Once an animal reaches the later stages of the disease, both feet become involved. The animal will be reluctant to move as pain will be obvious if the horse does take a step. Eventually, the entire foot will have to be rested and the animal will not be able to carry any weight.

The acute form of a laminitis is known as founder, or Grass founder in horses. It is characterized by the sudden onset of severe pain and lameness, and fetlock edema. It can lead to the permissive founder which is characterized by the gradual onset of chronic progressive lameness.