What is Laminitis ?

Laminitis (inflammation of the lamina of the hoof) is a common and potentially devastating foot problem that affects all horses

The attachment of the hoof wall to the coffin bone(also known as pedal bone or P3) is a strong dermal-epidermal bond. Laminitis occurs when this bond between the hoof wall and the coffin bone breaks down.

If we break this down to a very basic explanation, you can think of the horse’s foot as the tip of your finger, you have a hard outer nail, a bone and some connective tissue in between which represents the laminae. Laminitis literally means “inflammation of the laminae”. The pain associated with laminitis would be similar if you jammed your fingernail in the door and felt a painful, throbbing sensation.

It is not fully understood what causes this inflammation at a cellular level, but we have identified several causes and predisposing conditions.

What Causes Laminitis ?
  • Endocrine issues : Insulin dysregulation / PPID
  • ingestion of lush, rapidly growing pasture
  • Severe gastrointestinal disease (eg. diarrhoea)
  • Sepsis (circulating bacteria in the blood due to infection)
  • Compensatory weight bearing for extended periods (eg. if a horse is non-weight bearing lame in the right front, then the left from could be at risk for laminitis for bearing the majority of the weight.
Predisposing Factors to Laminitis
  • Equine Metabolic Syndrome (learn more about this condition here)
  • History of laminitis
  • Equine Cushing Disease (PPID) (read more here)
  • Poor hoof conformation
  • Inadequate / inappropriate farriery and trimming
  • Obesity and inactivity
  • Unaccustomed strenous exercise of the unfit horse
  • Excessive concussion on the feet
Signs of Laminitis

Laminitis usually affects the front feet more than the back feet, however in some instances all four feet could be affected. The signs will vary with the severity of the damage and the most common sign you will see is lameness which ranges from a mild head-nod to inability to weight bear and stand.

  • Bounding digital pulse
  • “Walking on eggshells” appearance
  • Shifting weight from one foot to the next
  • Rocking back on hindquarters
  • Laying down more than usual
Diagnosis of Laminitis

A diagnosis of laminitis is based on the clinical signs and history. Digital radiographs (x-rays) can provide a lot of useful information on the severity of the condition, how long it has been going on for and also offer important measurements for your farrier to implement a suitable corrective shoeing/trimming regime.

Laminitis is a emergency! If your horse is showing any of the above signs, you must contact us ASAP on 0427 072 095.

Treatment of Laminitis

Prompt veterinary intervention is imperative for a successful outcome.
Treatment plans are based on the underlying cause and stage of the disease. Treatment usually includes :

  • Cryotherapy – standing horses in buckets of ice water to reduce inflammation in the feet (you vet will advice you if this a suitable option for your horse and the exact protocol)
  • Systemic anti-inflammatory medication tailored to the needs of your horse
  • Padding of the feet with high density foam cut to specific requirements to ensure pressure distribution is ideal
  • Restriction of high NSC feeds and implementation of low sugar diet. This is NO turnout on lush, rapidly growing  pasture (ie. spring)
  • Confinement and/or box rest in deep sand bedding
  • Corrective trimming/shoeing every 2-4 weeks.
Prevention of Laminitis
  • Do not let your horses graze 24/7 on rapidly growing pasture. This is especially important after the first rains of the season in autumn when the pasture begins to grow rapidly. This rapid growth also occurs in spring, and it’s no coincidence that this is when we see many cases of laminitis. Anytime that the pasture is in a rapid growth phase, it is storing the most amount of sugars. Restrict turnout time during these months. Use a grazing muzzle to reduce intake, especially for those horses who are unable to be confined.
  • Make sure feed is securely stored away from the horse. A horse that ingests a large amount of grain from ‘breaking into’ the feed shed will be at a high risk for developing laminitis.
  • Feed an appropriate diet to help prevent laminitis (call us on 0427 072 095 to discuss a ration plan for your horse)
  • Ensure regular farrier care to prevent over-grown hooves
  • Do not work a horse repeatedly on a hard surface. The continuous concussive force on the hoof can lead to an onset of laminitis.
  • At risk horses should be tested for Equine Metabolic Syndrome and/or Cushings Disease. Please contact us to schedule a test – 0427 072 095.

Laminitis is an extremely painful disease which can be life threatening to your horse. Identifying the risk factors and taking measures to prevent laminitis is far more effective than trying to treat the condition once symptoms are already present.

Please contact Avon Ridge Equine Veterinary Services on 0427 072 095 if you wish to discuss any of the information further or to schedule a consultation for your horse.