Most horse owners and caretakers are familiar with the very identifiable stance a Cushings horse will adopt in an effort to decrease the amount of pressure on his painful feet. What is not as familiar to many equine enthusiasts is the foot pain laminitic horse can experience based solely on winter weather.
Horses with foot pain caused by cold are often very obviously lame and will adopt the same splayed-out stance as a horse that is foundering, but they will not have heat or bounding pulses in their feet. Typically, horses have a very high threshold for cold; cold weather causes the horse’s body to move blood away from extremities and toward the horse’s core to limit the loss of body heat.
Hooves in healthy horses are not damaged by the low blood and oxygen supply when arteriovenous shunts are utilized, allowing blood to be quickly diverted back to the veins. The only negative consequence of cold weather to healthy horses is a slowing of hoof wall growth.
In horses that may have metabolic issues, the lack of blood supply can reach a critical level; when this happens, the shunts diverting the blood can close, which causes tissue damage when the blood supply returns to the tissue.
Horses with metabolic issues have high insulin levels and elevated levels of endothelin-1, which is a chemical that causes blood vessels to contract. This chemical may affect hooves that are already in cold-weather blood vessel constriction, interrupting blood supply to the hooves.
Horses that have mild cold-induced hoof pain may simply move slowly over frozen, uneven ground. However, their lameness doesn’t go away once the horse is on a flat surface. Cold-induced issues can begin at temperatures around 40 degrees F.
The fist step to helping horses with cold-induced hoof pain is to protect their extremities, utilizing fleece-lined shipping boots, boots with pads or socks with warm linings. Additionally, supplementing equine diets with nitric oxide can help dilate blood vessels and reduce cold-weather hoof pain.
Read more at EquiMed.
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