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Cryotherapy to Prevent Acute Laminitis in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 12, 2014

At the International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot held in 2013, A.W. van Eps from the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit in Australia presented information* on the use of therapeutic hypothermia, or cooling, to prevent the progression of laminitic changes in equine hooves.

To be effective, cooling must take place early in the course of the disease, preferably before any signs of pain or discomfort are seen. This means that a horse can undergo therapeutic hypothermia based on a veterinarian’s opinion that the horse is at risk for laminitis because of another condition or situation. Because laminitis frequently follows enteritis, carbohydrate overload, colitis, and some other conditions, horses that are being treated for these situations are good candidates for prophylactic digital hypothermia, according to van Eps.

Laminitis signs may be seen within hours of some events such as carbohydrate overload, while signs may appear as late as five days after colitis or enteritis and after an even longer span of time in horses with pleuropneumonia. For the best chance of avoiding laminitis, according to van Eps, horses should be kept in hypothermic therapy for a day or two after indications of illness related to the initial condition, such as fever and aberrant laboratory indicators, have returned to normal.  

The speaker pointed out that cooling the hoof and pastern are not difficult, but for best results, the entire lower limb below the knee or hock should be immersed in a slurry of water and ice to cool inflowing arterial blood, which is extremely effective at keeping the inside of the hoof warm even when the outside of the hoof is chilled. This method is more effective in lowering hoof temperature than using gel boots or ice packs on the hoof. Therapeutic hypothermia has not been reported to cause serious problems in horses, reported van Eps, and occasional cases of pastern dermatitis related to the cooling therapy have resolved well with minimal or no long-term treatment.

Laminitis is intensely painful in its acute phase and is difficult to treat once the disease progression has begun. Severe cases often result in euthanasia. Horse owners who suspect their horses may be at risk for laminitis from any cause should contact a veterinarian immediately to begin treatment or preventive therapy.

*van Eps, A.W. 2013. Cryotherapy for laminitis: When and how? Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 33:878-879.