What is Laminitis?
Laminitis is fast becoming one of the most common causes of lameness seen in the horse. It is a painful and inflammatory disease affecting the tissue (laminae) that bonds the hoof wall to the pedal bone within the horse’s foot.

Once the laminae have weakened the supporting structure within the foot is weakened and, without effective and efficient veterinary treatment, this can lead to the pedal bone rotating, and/or dropping.

The laminae are made up of two parts; the insensitive part which grows down from the coronary band, and can be likened to the human finger nail, and the sensitive part, which can be likened to the skin under the finger nail of a human.

Together the two layers of the laminae form a strong bond which helps to support the structures within the foot. It is when this bond weakens due to the inflammation that the horse begins to experience pain and discomfort. Laminitis can occur extremely quickly and should be treated as an emergency and your Veterinary Surgeon should be contacted immediately.

Laminitis – Causes

  •  Feeding high levels of concentrates which can cause the growth of the wrong type of bacteria within the gut.
  •  Obesity.
  •  Bruising to the sole of the foot/ concussion caused by repetitive work on hard ground.
  •  Stress induced.
  •  Severe injury to the opposing limb as the weight is unevenly distributed.
  •  Toxicity caused by toxins which are released from severe bacterial infection, for example, a retained placenta.
  •  Certain breeds are predisposed to laminitis, particularly the heavier breeds and pony types.
  •  Use of corticosteriods.
  •  Unrestricted grazing on rich grass, particularly in early spring and late summer.
  •  Incorrect shoeing/ poor foot balance/ no shoes.
  •  Disease, such as equine metabolic syndrome, caused by insulin resistance, or Cushings, caused by a pituitary gland tumor.

Laminitis – Symptoms

  •  Stance – The laminitic may stand back on their heels, trying to take the weight off the affected feet, often bearing more weight on the hind limbs.
  •  Shifting of weight – Often the horse will be seen to shuffle from foot to foot in an attempt to become more comfortable.
  •  Short pottery gait – The laminitic horse may not seem obviously lame but can often show a shorter length in its stride and/or appear to be pottery and take shuffling strides when turning. This can often be seen more clearly and be made worse when the horse is asked to turn on hard ground.
  •  Reluctance to move forwards- A horse with laminitis will often be reluctant to walk, looking to the observer as though the feet are “planted” to the ground. When encouraged to move forward the horse will often lean back before it is able to lift the effected foot.
  •  Excessive lying down – An uncomfortable horse, one that is in pain, will often be seen to lie down more frequently. Again, this is the horse attempting to ease the discomfort by taking its weight off its feet.
  •  Heat – Due to changes of blood circulation around the foot of a laminitic, the affected foot may exhibit warmth to the hoof wall. Often more noticeable around the top of the hoof / coronary band.
  •  Digital pulses – As above, the change in blood flow causes the digital pulse of the horse’s limbs to become more evident, they will often become stronger and more bounding.
  • Acute Laminitic – Often if the laminitis has a rapid and severe onset the horse may exhibit colic type behaviour such as increased heart rate, increased and shallow respiratory rate, sweating and often becoming extremely anxious. These are all symptoms of extreme pain and discomfort in a horse and veterinary treatment should be sought immediately.
  • Chronic laminitic – A horse with reoccurring laminitis, through whatever reason, will often show lines around the hoof wall, this is where the laminae have been damaged and the foot has tried to heal.

It cannot be said that a laminitic horse or pony will display all of the above symptoms, some may show all, while others may only display one symptom. The symptoms are there as a guide only and are not guaranteed. However, if laminitis is suspected at all it should be treated as an emergency and the Veterinary Surgeon contacted immediately.

Laminitis – Treatment Plan

Laminitis should be treated as an emergency and your Veterinary Surgeon contacted immediately. A management plan will be made by the Veterinary Surgeon, which will be determined by the severity of the laminitis.

  • The plan may include some or all of the following:
  • Immediate box rest.
  • Bed down on a deep bed which goes up to the stable door, shavings are preferable.
  • Do not feed hard feeds and do not allow to graze on rich lush grass.
  • Do not starve a laminitic as this can cause further problems, feed three small hay nets throughout the day.
  • An obese horse will be put on an immediate diet, this can be discussed with the Veterinary Surgeon and/or feed merchants.
  • Xrays of the horse’s feet maybe required to determine if any damage has occurred to the pedal bone.
  • Possible referral to the remedial farrier which works alongside Park Hall Veterinary Clinic.
  • May require hospitalisation for treatment if laminitis is severe.
  • If the laminitis has been caused by some form of toxicity, the horse will need to come into the surgery and will need antibiotics.
  • Laminitis suspected to be caused by either Equine Metabolic Syndrome or Cushings will require blood tests to be sent to an outside lab. If these come back as positive treatment will be provided in the form of medication and management.
  • If the laminitis is suspected to be caused by medications, the Veterinary Surgeon may opt to remove the suspected drug or replace it for another.