The Savvy Station

Laminitis in Horses - What You Need to Know

by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Mar 13, 2024

Laminitis in Horses - What You Need to Know

Laminitis is a condition that affects the horse's hooves. With this condition, there is inflammation in the laminae, the part of the hoof that connects the hoof wall to the coffin bone in the hoof.

It is a painful condition that can cause severe lameness in the affected hoof. It can be so severe that veterinarians can even need to recommend euthanasia if the laminitis progresses far enough.

Early detection and treatment is critical with equine laminitis. This is a condition in many cases that can be managed if caught early enough.

Of course, prevention is a horse owner's best bet. You will need to perform regular hoof care and maintain a good balance of diet and exercise. With proper education, an experienced vet, and good care, your horse will be in excellent hands to live a long and healthy life.

Early Symptoms of Laminitis

Educating ourselves on the early symptoms of laminitis can be a true lifesaver for our horses. Regularly inspecting the hoof during your hoof care routine will set you up for success. The early symptoms you need to watch out for include:

  1. Lameness: The earliest and most obvious sign of laminitis is lameness. With an inflamed laminae, your horse will feel sore and may wish to avoid exercise. You will likely see the lameness in one leg at first.
  2. Increased Digital Pulse: With laminitis, there is an increased blood flow because of the inflammation. Therefore, there is an increased digital pulse in the hoof. The digital pulse can be difficult to find in a healthy hoof. However, it will be very pronounced in this case.
  3. Heat: A common symptom that accompanies inflammation and increased pulse is heat. Upon inspection, the hoof will feel warm to your bare hand. Your horse may also be sensitive to your prodding.
  4. Shifting Weight: When a horse is at rest, they should be able to stand comfortably on all four hooves. With laminitis, you may notice your horse shifting to relieve the weight on one or more hooves.
  5. Reluctance to Exercise: Like our other symptoms, laminitis is painful and will prevent your horse from exercising. You should call your veterinarian immediately if your horse no longer walks or runs as he has.

Chronic Laminitis

If equine laminitis is missed, goes untreated, or is re-occurring, it can turn into a chronic issue. At this point, the laminae is permanently damaged.

In chronic laminitis, you should watch for the classic "founder stance," in which the horse shifts his weight to his back legs. Additionally, you may see the hooves become misshapen.

Treating chronic laminitis is difficult, but pain management is key. Your veterinarian will recommend a diet and exercise plan to keep your horse comfortable.

Founder vs. Laminitis

Founder and laminitis are not the same condition. While laminitis refers to the inflammation of the laminae between the coffin bone and hoof wall, founder is a sinking or rotation of the coffin bone in the hoof capsule. This damage is often because of laminitis.

Founder is considered one of the most advanced stages of laminitis. With so much inflammation in the laminae, the coffin bone shifts in the hoof capsule, causing severe pain for your horse.

Laminitis can be deadly for a horse if it has progressed to founder. The damage can make it impossible for a horse to function normally or stand comfortably.

What causes laminitis?

Laminitis originates with increased blood flow to the laminae and inflammation from this increase in flow. Broadly speaking, there are three significant causes of laminitis.

A poorly balanced diet can lead to hormonal issues, blood sugar issues, and weight gain. A horse that consumes too much grain is severely at risk.

Just like diet, hormonal and endocrine issues can cause laminitis. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Cushing's disease can cause laminitis. Increases in weight, hormonal issues, and sugar imbalances can lead to systemic swelling.

Injuries to the hoove, like heavy concussion on hard surfaces and severe impacts, can cause inflammation to occur in the hoof. A horse can also develop laminitis in an opposite hoof as he shifts his weight away from an injured hoof.

Risk Factors for Laminitis (equine cushings, equine metabolic syndrome, stress, obesity)

Equine Cushings is a hormonal disorder that often plagues older horses. The imbalance of hormones caused by Equine Cushings can lead to an increased risk of laminitis.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a condition that can lead to laminitis. Horses with EMS suffer from insulin resistance and obesity. The increased weight can cause laminitis to develop.

Stress can trigger laminitis in horses who are more susceptible to it and have suffered from it before.

Too much weight can put added stress on a horse's hooves. If it is associated with another condition, the risk factors for developing laminitis increase.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Laminitis

Trimming for Laminitis

After a diagnosis of laminitis, hoof care is vital. Correct trimming is one of the first things an owner can do to help with the pain. A veterinarian or farrier will know how to perform this trimming. You will want to reduce the pressure on the inflamed portion of the foot.

Feed Changes

If your horse's laminitis comes from a weight issue, you must adjust his diet accordingly. Your veterinarian can help you find the best diet. Overall, you will want to choose a low-carbohydrate diet. Many owners select hay instead of grain or choose a feed for horses with metabolic issues.

Additionally, horses with laminitis may need medications. These medications can help balance hormonal issues or relieve pain. It may take some experimentation to find the right dosages for your horse. However, your veterinarian will make the appropriate changes.

Preventing Laminitis

Preventing equine laminitis will allow your horse to live a happy, healthy, and comfortable life. To prevent laminitis, you should:

  • Provide Proper Nutrition
  • Perform Regular Exercise
  • Practice Hoof Care
  • Provide Safe Housing
  • Remember, Early Detection is Key
Here at Parelli Natural Horsemanship we want to help you (and your horse!) live your best horse life.  Pat Parelli teaches us that Horsemanship is a progressive and perpetual series of habits and skills that both horses and humans need to become partners.  Learning to be the best partner you can be for your horse is a combination of everything from daily care to day to day routines and training.  We’re here to help you become the horseman your horse always dreamed you would be.  Follow this link to learn more about our at-home University, and stay safe, gain confidence, have fun, and achieve excellence with your horse, starting today!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.