What Is Foundering in Cattle?

By Lee Parker

Devastating and painful, founder -- also known as laminitis -- is an inflammation of the lamina, or vascular tissue that lines the inside of the hoof. There are an immense amount of blood vessels that connect the lamina to the hoof via intricate webbing. Because of the sensitivity of this area, it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of infection, trauma or endotoxins from within the cow's own body.

Danger From Within

Founder is is suspected to be caused by biological poisons that form in the "reticulum," or second stomach. Endotoxins work like bacterial time bombs that are released when a cell dies. These poisons enter the bloodstream, setting a damaging chain of events into motion.

First, the blood vessels react to the endotoxin, swelling in the hooves and causing intense pain. Then the infection spreads to the liver and kidneys, affecting the overall health of the cow, and making her more susceptible to additional illnesses.

When the cow experiences an abrupt change in diet, her stomach naturally fills with extra acid to break down the new material. This acid overload kills off beneficial bacteria living in the first stomach, or rumen. When those organisms die, their cells trigger the endotoxins.

Look for the Signs

The first symptom of founder is lameness. Lesions may form on the hooves as they become flatter and longer. As the condition progresses, a cow will arch her back, pant, sweat and lie down more often than usual.

Intensely severe cases of founder might manifest in behavior changes, as a cow may attempt to cross her front legs while keeping her back legs wide apart, keep her legs tucked beneath her body while lying down or even be reduced to crawling on her knees. In the most relentless cases of founder, pus and blood will ooze from the hoof.

A Healing Hand

Fortunately, if caught in time, founder is treatable. Direct relief can be achieved by having a livestock veterinarian administer antihistamines and corticosteroids to reduce swelling. Depending upon the severity, they may choose to give the cow pain relievers, or provide alternating hot and cold water treatments. Warm water increases circulatory function to damaged tissue, and cold water naturally relieves pain.

As an owner, you can make a world of difference for your cow by providing her with plenty of soft, clean bedding and letting her rest during her treatment, which includes determining the source of the problem.

Palliative Prevention

Like humans and autoimmune diseases, some cows are genetically predisposed to founder. Brahman cattle in particular seem to be more prone to this debilitating condition. Younger cows will bounce back from an attack of laminitis faster than older cows, although genetics may determine whether debilitating scar tissue might form as a result.

If the trigger was an injury, there is little to do but allow your cow to heal. Scale back any nutritional risk factors, such as hormone additives or recent diet changes and up the quality of her feed. Over time, and with the guidance of your veterinarian, she will hopefully make a full recovery.