March 26th, 2014

Laminitis is an excruciating disease of the foot in hoofed animals, occurring mostly in horses and cattle, characterized by pain, swelling, and eventually the inability to walk. This affliction is caused by the weakening of the laminae, the sensitive tissue surrounding and supporting the bones of the hoof. Once this tissue becomes weakened and inflamed, the cells become damaged and the pedal bone begins to drop. If the condition is not identified early enough, and speedy intervention and treatment is not issued, the pedal bone can push into and through the laminae. This causes irreversible damage and chronic pain, which may ultimately lead to the horse having to be put down. This was unfortunately the disease that led to the great Secretariat’s death in 1989, sixteen years after winning the Triple Crown. No one knows for certain what caused the laminitis in Secretariat, though the consensus is that it was most probably endocrinopathic disease.

Much more is known now than when Secretariat became afflicted, however; much of this debilitating disease still remains a mystery. The International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot (IECLDF) was focused on efforts to prevent laminitis. James Orsini, DVM, DACVS, associate professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center and co-director of IECLDF, claims alternative funding is necessary in order to continue the research needed to conquer laminitis. There is nowhere near the amount of funding that is available for human diseases unfortunately. However, there is a clear link between human and animal health research, and the National Institutes of Health should recognize the correlation. The goal referred to as Vision 20/20 in the equine veterinary community is to defeat laminitis by 2020. Recognizing horses that are at risk, and early intervention is paramount. This allows for preventative rather than reactive treatment, thus averting of the condition and increasing the chances for survival.