Cryotherapy’s Role In Preventing And Managing Laminitis

Understand when, how and the duration of an ice slurry can benefit a horse

Ice is more than the stuff you pour your drink over at the end of the day. It remains one of the most consistently proven means of preventing or treating many types of early laminitis.

Cryotherapy, using a slurry of water and ice to lower the hoof capsule temperature, can interfere with the inflammatory markers (mediators) that cause the cellular damage leading to many metabolic forms of laminitis. Immersing the lower limb in an ice/water combo at the onset of laminitis, or ideally as soon as the risk is known, can prevent clinical signs.

“I liken it to putting the foot into a state of hibernation,” says James Orsini, director of the Laminitis Institute at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.  

While the exact mechanisms of laminitis are unknown, chemical triggers including cytokines and metalloproteinases set up an inflammatory cascade that damages the laminae at the cellular level, weakening their attachments.

Orsini believes cryotherapy protects the foot by reducing the cellular requirements for glucose and oxygen. Lowering the metabolism of the cells in this way increases the survivability of the tissues.

A 2012 study1 published in the Equine Veterinary Journal compared the genetic expression of several inflammatory mediators, chemicals implicated in the laminitic process, among horses in which laminitis was artificially induced — with cryotherapy treatment and without. In this study, the researchers found that cryotherapy consistently lowered the genetic expression of those chemicals. 

According to Orsini, cryotherapy also helps protect the…

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Christy Corp-Minamiji DMV

Christy Corp-Minamiji is a freelance writer and former large animal veterinary practitioner. She lives in Northern California.

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