Fevers and founder – the relationship in horses.


Turns out, there are, unfortunately, many ways for your horse to develop laminitis. One of them is from a fever – and it doesn’t matter what the cause is. Yet another reason to check your horse’s TPR daily. So how does this all happen?

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How fevers work towards laminitis and founder



horse thermometer with attached string

A horse can have a fever and still look and act normal.


  • Your horse’s hypothalamus in his brain is responsible for temperature regulation. It creates sweating, causes shivering, and makes hairs stand on end to trap air. The hypothalamus sets the temperature of your horse’s body.


  • Now – let’s say something – a pathogen – infects your horse. It could be a virus, or it could be bacteria. This pathogen creates a huge inflammatory reaction in your horse’s body.


  • His immune system sends white blood cells to attack the bacteria, fungus, virus, etc. This process releases cytokines into your horse’s blood. These cytokines tell the other cells in your horse’s body to start getting inflamed.


  • One cytokine, in particular, the pyrogen, tells your horse’s hypothalamus to increase the horse’s body temperature – and now your horse has a fever.


horse hoof that is barefoot up close

Check your horse’s hooves daily for heat and a digital pulse.  (video below)


Fevers burn up invaders!


  • Fevers increase metabolism! Fevers increase the number of chemical reactions in your horse! All good things to fight an invader. BUT BUT BUT BUT…. a fever is whole body inflammation – and that includes the hooves.


horse hoof capsules and coffin bones

Hoof capsules and coffin bones from laminitic horses.


The exact mechanism isn’t known about how fevers cause founder – but we know enough.


  • Laminitis can happen when horses get fevers. The inflammation can end up in the hoof capsule causing the laminae to inflame.


  • Inflammation can also weaken the intestinal lining, letting toxins from your horse’s natural gut population of bacteria cross into the bloodstream and end up in the hooves.


How to help prevent founder


  • The first step is to recognize that your horse has a fever. This is often easier said than done, as most horses will go about their daily business as usual despite having a fever. You need to be taking your horse’s temperature every single day.


  • At the first sign of a fever, call your veterinarian. Most vets worth their salt would rather answer questions than have you “wait and see”. Your horse might end up in a much worse situation.


horse in buckets of ice



  • As you and your vet figure out why your horse has a fever, get your horse’s hooves into some ice. Like for days at a time. Once again, that old saying about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure rings true.


  • Consider that your horse will show obvious signs of laminitis and founder hours and days into the damage being done. Ice can help prevent that.


My point to this story is this – it’s not just spring grass that leads to laminitis. Any fever – for any reason – can lead your horse down the road to laminitis. Diligence and preventative icing during a fever can help, as well as an immediate phone call to your vet.



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