Scientific evidence supports styrofoam pads for laminitic horses

Treatment of acute laminitis in horses is the most controversial subject between vets and farriers alike. The reason is that there are sooo many different theories on how best to protect the laminar junctions and preserve blood flow to the foot and make the horse more comfortable all at the same time. Usually when there are alot of treatment options it is because not all of them work well or atleast work well for every horse. How I decide to treat an acutely laminitic horse depends on the individual case and I let the horse tell me if I am getting it right. Sometimes you have to try several different things before you see an improvement.

I have been using styrofoam pads for the treatment of acute laminitis in horses (including on my own horse) for years and have had good success with them. Until this recent research there wasn’t any scientific evidence to prove that these pads altered the weight bearing mechanics of the foot.  Recently, researchers at Iowa State University (AJVR, Vol 22, No. 5, 2011) showed that styrofoam pads increased the weight bearing contact surface area, decreased total contact pressure, and decreased peak contact pressure for atleast 48 hrs (limit of the study) in normal horses. Additionally, the center of pressure shifted palmarly (towards the heel, away from the toe) between 24 and 48 hrs.

What is the significance of this???

Mechanically, treatment for acute laminitis is aimed at decreasing the stress on the laminar junction. One way to accomplish this is by increasing the weight bearing surface area of the foot which helps to disperse the vertical load across the foot. Previously, vets and farriers believed that styrofoam pads accomplished this by recruiting the frog and sole surfaces to share in the weight bearing. This reduces stress on the hoof wall (where the laminar junctions are!). Finally, clinical observations are now supported by scientific evidence.

The beauty of styrofoam pads is that they are inexpensive and easy to make from styrofoam insulation foam that can be purchased in large sheets from Lowe’s or Home Depot. I have used 2 inch pink foam. Researchers at Iowa State University used 1.5 inch blue insulation foam for their study. The styrofoam can be custom fit to the foot – which is perfect if you have a draft with a big foot or a miniature horse.

Tip: if you live in the south 3/4 inch foam is what you’ll likely find – I double it – which means you’ll have to cut 2 pads per foot.

If you think your horse has laminitis, please consult with your veterinarian regarding treatment options. Prompt treatment and addressing any identifiable underlying cause(s) such as diet (high carbodrates, fructans), Cushing’s Disease, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, ect. are key to ensuring the best possible outcome.


What is an internal medicine specialist?

Whenever I meet new clients and introduce myself as an internal medicine specialist, they often smile and nod as if they are impressed by this and then later politely ask…  What is an internal medicine specialist? It is a hard concept to explain… because we deal with the internal physiological workings of animals and oftentimes this involves things we can’t necessarily see or touch. If someone introduces themselves as a board certified equine surgeon, everyone understands this concept; they either fix damaged structures or cut them out. Simple.

I often start by comparing to the TV show House. That show best illustrates the process of a complicated case that requires the doctors of the show to deliberate and discuss a list of differentials and perform many diagnostics to rule out other diseases until finally solving the case. I call these types of cases – needle in the haystack cases.

In our training, we develop an in-depth understanding of the pathophysiology of diseases, learn advanced diagnostic techniques, and become highly experienced in the management of complicated or critically ill patients.

Becoming an internal medicine specialist is a rigorous endeavor and requires completion of a 4 year veterinary degree and atleast 1 year of practice before entering an ACVIM (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine)approved residency program . Most programs are 2-3 years and require a research component with a scientific publication in an approved peer reviewed journal. Additional requirements include passing a general exam and a specialty/certifier exam along with passing of 2 in depth case reports. Following completion of ALL of these requirements, board certificiation in Large Animal Internal Medicine is awarded by the ACVIM.