Laminitis in horses

Laminitis is, unfortunately, a year-round concern for horse owners and with no safe seasons, it’s important to be able to recognise the symptoms of this painful condition and understand what to do if your horse starts to show signs.

What is laminitis?

Laminitis is an inflammatory condition affecting a horse’s hoof as the blood flow to the laminae (which connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone) is affected. This causes separation, or failure of laminae, can cause permanent damage to their hooves and, in extreme situations, even result in a horse needing to be euthanised.

Laminitis can affect any of the feet and seen in any horse or pony, regardless of breed.

Causes of laminitis in horses

A number of different factors are linked to laminitis and a variety of conditions can cause a flare-up. Here are some of the more common causes:

Diseases with inflammation

Certain types of colic, diarrhoea, retained placenta and severe pneumonia can all result in laminitis but it’s still unclear as to what triggers the condition.

Abnormal weight bearing

If a horse has injured a leg, the leg which is forced to bear more weight is then at risk at developing laminitis.

Hormonal diseases

Some laminitis cases are caused by an underlying hormonal disease such as Cushing’s or equine metabolic syndrome but again the exact sequence of events is still unknown.

Other causes

Prolonged or fast work on hard ground, high intake of soluble carbohydrates, stress and severe infection can all increase the risk of laminitis in a horse or pony.

What are the signs of laminitis?

Being able to recognise the signs of laminitis in an equine will help make sure you and your horse receive vet advice and treatment as soon as possible. The earlier the condition is noticed, the less internal damage will have been caused, and the less pain your animal will suffer.

Acute laminitis

Acute laminitis is when the condition first develops. The signs generally come on very suddenly and are associated with pain.

Acute signs include:

  • Reluctance to walk or move
  • Unwillingness to get up
  • Change in temperament
  • Shifting weight from foot to foot
  • A strong pounding pulse (that can be felt as blood flows through the artery into a horse’s hoof)
  • Leaning back onto their heels
  • Lameness on hard ground or turns

Chronic laminitis

Chronic laminitis is usually a result of a relapse from previous attacks or the bone displacing or rotating within the hoof capsule.

Signs of chronic laminitis include:

  • Changes to the shape or angle of the hoof
  • Growth rings around the hoof wall
  • Hoof wall cracks
  • Bruising on the sole of the foot
  • Thick, “cresty” neck

Treatment of laminitis in horses

It’s important to contact your vet as soon as you notice the signs of laminitis as the sooner the treatment begins, the better the chance of recovery. The treatment will depend on your horse’s specific circumstances and the condition’s stages.

Your vet is likely to provide pain relief and recommend that your horse is moved to a smaller pen or stable with a deep bed of shavings.

Investigation can help determine the cause of the condition, as the horse’s management can then prevent it from reoccurring.

When the condition is chronic, remedial farriery is a big part of a horse’s treatment. This will help relieve pressure, stabilise and maintain correct foot balance as well as rehabilitating the hoof.

Unfortunately, in serious cases of laminitis, euthanasia can be recommended if the prognosis is poor.

How to prevent laminitis in horses

The best way to prevent laminitis is keeping the causes under control and looking out for signs related to the risk factors so that you are able to seek veterinary treatment before it results in this inflammatory condition.

Horse owners should also monitor their horses’ diets carefully to make sure their individual needs are met and that they’re not being fed too much sugar and starch. This can also help keep your horse in shape, healthy and avoiding adding extra pressure on their feet.

Constantly checking for signs of laminitis might not prevent the condition but it can definitely help ensure you seek veterinary treatment before it worsens or your horse falls victim to another attack.

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