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Laminitis

Answers to FAQs

What Is It?

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.

The Signs

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.

Causes

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.

What To Do

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.

Treatment

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.

  1. NO GRASS.
  2. SOAK HAY FOR AT LEAST 1- 2 HOURS. This will leach out 18-30% of the sugar. Rinsing the soaked hay in clean water and changing the water part way through soaking helps too. Long term if hay can be sourced that tests below 10% NSC, this can be safely fed to most Laminitics without soaking. If hay has not been tested it must be soaked.
  3. BALANCE MINERALS. The best way to do this is to identify mineral imbalances and deficiencies in the hay by having it tested in a lab. Then have a bespoke supplement made up to balance to the analysis results. If this isn’t practical, then a quality commercial supplement is better than nothing.
  4. Use a low grade forage feed (Chaff such as Dengie Hi Fi lite) as a carrier for the mineral supplement.
  5. A PROBIOTIC will help to stabilise the hind gut.

Prevention

Prevention of Laminitis is preferable to treatment as not all horses respond well to therapy. Preventative measures to minimise the risk of Laminitis include:

  •  Restriction of access to lush pastures and grain
  •  Prevention of obesity
  •  Care not to over-exercise on hard ground
  •  Prompt treatment of systemic medical conditions which can lead to Laminitis

 If you think your horse might have Laminitis, contact your veterinary surgeon.

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