Scientists reveal new theory on hoof disease
New high resolution imaging techniques allow scientists to dissect the hoof components and visualize them in 3D. Photo courtesy of University of Nottingham.

New research from the University of Nottingham has huge implications for the prevention and management of chronic hoof disease in horses.

Using innovative 3D Synchrotron imaging techniques, as well as histological sampling and stem cell biology, scientists at the University of Nottingham have discovered new information about the causes and potential treatment of hoof disease in horses. The research team studied the hooves of 129 horses, acquiring the most detailed pictures ever produced of hoof structure, biology and physical dynamics. The results revealed a number of key findings:

  • A “dished hoof” (i.e. a dorsally curved hoof as observed in cases of chronic laminitis) is fundamentally caused by the fact that hooves are asymmetric (with a short heel and long toe). This in turn explains why donkeys are less prone to hoof deformities/pathologies, since they tend to have long heels.
  • The dorsal curvature can be exacerbated by a low body condition score or/and rapidly-growing hoof. This explains why Ethiopian horses with low body condition scores develop similar hoof pathologies to Western horses with normal or often high body scores.

The research, led by Dr. Cyril Rauch, Associate Professor in Physical and Mathematical Veterinary Medicine & Science, will have huge implications for the prevention and management of chronic hoof pathologies and deformities. “This work also provides a strong base to develop theoretical models for farriery work: strong scientific evidence is really what is needed in this field,” says Dr. Rauch.