Laminitis is a painful, often debilitating condition that affects horses. It occurs when the laminae of the horse’s hoof become inflamed and cause lameness. Laminitis can be caused by a number of factors, including excessive dietary energy intake, trauma to the foot, or systemic health conditions. Regardless of the cause, it is important to recognize the signs and treat laminitis promptly, as it can lead to long-term lameness or even require euthanasia in severe cases.
What is Laminitis in Horses?
Laminitis is a painful inflammatory condition that affects the sensitive laminae of the horse’s hoof. The laminae are located between the hoof wall and coffin bone, and their job is to help attach the two together. When the laminae become inflamed they can stretch or tear, which causes pain and lameness.
What Causes Laminitis?
There are a variety of potential causes of laminitis in horses. The most common cause is overfeeding on a diet high in carbohydrates or sugars, such as grain and sweet feed. Other contributing factors can include sudden changes in exercise intensity, extreme stress, metabolic disease, infection (such as septicemia or colic), trauma to the feet, prolonged standing on hard surfaces, or hormonal imbalances. In some cases, the cause of laminitis is unknown.
The most obvious symptom of laminitis is lameness or an unwillingness to bear weight on one or more feet. Other signs can include increased digital pulses (the hoof pulse felt on the back of the foot), heat in the affected hooves, and a shifting stance (moving from one foot to the other or rocking back and forth).
The effects of laminitis, which is an inflammation of the sensitive tissue that connects the hoof wall to the bone within the hoof, can linger after treatment. Horses may suffer from chronic pain and discomfort due to chronic symptoms associated with laminitis. These include:
- Hoof deformities such as rotation of the coffin bone and separation of the wall from the sole due to low blood supply
- Heat, pain, and discomfort in the feet, especially when pressure is applied
- Chronic lameness that can be worse after exercise or following periods of rest
- Difficulty standing for long periods or bearing weight on affected legs
- Digital pulses that may be present in the affected limb
Due to the complexity of laminitis, it is important to consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your horse may be suffering from this condition. Your vet will perform a physical exam and look at the hoofs for signs of laminitis such as heat or pulsation in the feet. They may also take X-rays to check for any abnormalities in the hoofs and observe your horse’s stance and gait to determine any areas of lameness.
The vet may also take blood samples for testing or recommend imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans if needed.
Once laminitis has been diagnosed, the horse’s treatment plan will depend on the cause of the condition. Treatment involves rest and prevention of pain and inflammation. This may include one or more of the following:
- Pain relief medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and/or systemic corticosteroids
- Supportive farriery – trimming or shoeing the horse’s hoof to reduce the strain on the laminae
- Rest – the horse should be confined to a small area on soft footings, such as deep sawdust or shavings
- Improved nutrition – providing a balanced diet and avoiding large amounts of grain
- Special treatments such as therapeutic ultrasound, magnetic therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also be used to reduce inflammation
With appropriate treatment and care, the majority of horses with laminitis can go on to lead a normal life. It is important to note, however, that laminitis can be a very serious condition, especially if it is left untreated.
Prevention of laminitis is a key way to protect your horse’s feet and overall health. There are a number of things you can do to keep your horse from developing laminitis.
- Maintain a Proper Diet – Feeding the right amount and type of food to your horse is important. Eating too much sugar and starch-rich grains can contribute to laminitis, so avoiding these types of food is key.
- Limit Access to Pasture – Horses allowed full access to lush green grass can be at risk for overeating and developing laminitis. Limiting the amount of time your horse spends in the pasture is essential for preventing this condition.
- Watch Out for Cushing’s Disease – Horses with Cushing’s disease often develop laminitis, so it’s important to have your horse checked regularly for any signs of the disease.
- Monitor Your Horse’s Weight – Horses that are overweight tend to be at greater risk for laminitis, so keeping your horse’s weight in check is important.
- Seek Veterinary Treatment – If you suspect your horse may be suffering from laminitis, seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible. A vet can provide advice on how best to treat the condition, as well as any additional dietary or exercise measures that may be needed to help prevent a recurrence.
- Provide Proper Hoof Care – Caring for your horse’s hooves is crucial in preventing laminitis. Have your horseshoes checked regularly and make sure your horse is never going too long between trims.
- Reduce Stress – Reducing stress in your horse is also important, as stress can be a contributing factor in the development of laminitis. Make sure that you are providing your horse with plenty of exercise and stimulation to help keep them motivated and relaxed.
What is the best diet for laminitis?
The best diet for a laminitis horse is one that provides adequate calories and nutrition without being too rich. It’s important to limit the amount of sugar, starches and other nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) in your horse’s diet as this can increase the risk of laminitis. Your veterinarian can recommend a diet and feed that is specific to your horse’s individual needs. It is also important to monitor the weight of your horse to ensure they are not gaining too much or losing too much, both of which can increase the risk of laminitis.
What months are worse for laminitis?
Summer months typically have a higher risk for laminitis due to the increase in grass growth which can lead to an excessive intake of sugar and NSC. However, any season can potentially cause a horse to suffer from laminitis depending on their individual circumstance. Horses that are overweight or those with a pre-existing metabolic condition are more likely to be at risk of laminitis year-round. It is important to monitor your horse’s body condition and dietary intake throughout the year in order to reduce the risk of laminitis.
Is it good to walk a horse with laminitis?
It is recommended to limit the activity of a horse with laminitis, as any increase in workload can put further strain on its hoof structure.
How to ease laminitis pain?
Pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce the pain associated with laminitis. Your veterinarian may also suggest a heel wedge pad, which helps to redistribute the weight away from the affected area. In severe cases, your vet may recommend surgery or hoof trimming in order to relieve inflammation and improve comfort.
What is laminitis, and how can it be prevented or treated?