Answers to FAQs
Laminitis is a highly painful and weakening disease which occurs in a horse’s feet. The term ‘Laminitis’ strictly means ‘inflammation of the attachments between the hoof and the skeleton’, but the disease is much more complicated than this. In severe cases, there is such serious damage to the horse that the hoof wall completely separates from the bone within the hoof. This leads to the development of severe pain and lameness.
Laminitis usually affects all four feet but the clinical signs are normally most obvious in the front feet. In the early stages of the disease (acute Laminitis) the horse appears uncomfortable while standing and frequently lifts up alternate feet. As the disease gets worse, the horse develops a more obvious lameness, is reluctant to move and often adopts the classic ‘Laminitis stance’ – the forelegs are placed in front of the body as the horse attempts to shift weight to its hindquarters and relieve pain in the front feet. Horses with acute Laminitis may recover or may progress to develop chronic Laminitis which is characterised by failure of the hoof wall to hold up the skeleton. Displacement of the bones of the skeleton within the hoof capsule alters the appearance of the external hoof wall over time. Chronic Laminitis cases are at risk of recurrent bouts of painful, acute Laminitis in the future. Some ponies with Laminitis show no obvious signs of lameness (acute Laminitis) but do show changes to the hoof consistent with chronic Laminitis.
There are many causes of Laminitis, however the most frequent cause in the UK is believed to be the excessive ingestion of lush grass, particularly likely to happen in the spring time. Other common causes include ‘gorging on grain’, over-exercising on hard ground, excessive weight bearing following injury to another limb and some systemic medical conditions. Laminitis is commonly associated with ‘Cushing’s Syndrome’, a condition affecting older ponies that classically develop a long, curly coat. Laminitis has also recently been linked to a condition termed ‘Equine Metabolic Syndrome’, which is a predisposition for overweight ponies to develop the disease.
Acute Laminitis is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. If you suspect Laminitis, it is important not to move your horse unnecessarily as forced exercise will increase the amount of damage within the hoof.
Cases of suspected Laminitis should be restricted to a deep bedded box, with access to hay and water, awaiting veterinary attention. Chronic Laminitis cases also require regular attention from both the vet and farrier. Your vet will be able to advise you on the appropriate medical treatments, management changes and therapeutic shoeing approaches, depending on the individual case.
It is important for horses to receive prompt veterinary attention in the early stages of Laminitis. Complete recovery from acute Laminitis is possible and horses can regain full athletic function within a few months. However, once the chronic stage of Laminitis has been entered, the outcome of being able to return to athletic function is less likely. Treatment of acute Laminitis is therefore crucial to prevent the horse developing chronic Laminitis. In severe Laminitis cases, euthanasia (putting a horse to sleep) is indicated as the only means to relieve the unrelenting pain and suffering associated with the disease.
To improve a Laminitic horse, the diet must be as low in non-structural carbohydrates as possible. This is the most important part of the process. No trimmer or farrier can improve a Laminitic horse while its diet is too high in sugar.
Prevention of Laminitis is preferable to treatment as not all horses respond well to therapy. Preventative measures to minimise the risk of Laminitis include:
If you think your horse might have Laminitis, contact your veterinary surgeon.
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