Laminitis in Horses

Healthy horse hooves prevents laminitis

Laminitis is one of the most common conditions among horses. Horses are kept for gaming or working purposes, and any condition that makes them impair to do their job can become a death sentence for them. Therefore, veterinarians and horse owners put their extreme efforts into preventing their horses from getting laminitis. The severity of the disease varies from mild to life-threatening lameness. If laminitis becomes impossible to treat, euthanasia may be the only solution to save your horse from incurable suffering.

What is Laminitis?

In simple words, laminitis is the inflammation of a sensitive layer called the laminae of the hoof. The sensitive layers are responsible for the suspension of coffin bone inside the hoof. Any damage to these laminae results in inflammation and the blockage of blood supply to the laminae. There are many interdigitating laminae between the coffin bone and the hoof. If inflammation occurs there and results in the blockage of blood supply, the laminae start dying.

In mild cases, appropriate treatment can cure the condition with no long-lasting effects. However, if the damage is severe, the connection between the coffin bone and the hoof wall is lost. Gradually the attachment between the coffin bone and the horny hoof wall is lost, and the coffin bone rotates and/or sinks inside the hoof (founder). Now, if the horse tries to move on its feet, the tip of the coffin bone penetrates the sole, with painful consequences.

healthy hoof vs laminitic hoof in horse diagram
Photo by: Hygain

What are the possible causes of laminitis?

The underlying problem is the interference with blood vessels supplying blood to the laminae. This is the point from where the problem starts arising. There are many factors that directly or indirectly induce laminitis. Most of them are as follows:

- One of the causes of laminitis is a severe injury. A severe injury can be a fracture or a joint infection that leads to increased weight-bearing over the opposite limb.

- Horses who are on their training period have to do strenuous exercises. An excessive concussion during the exercise on hard grounds can cause laminitis.

- Horses should be kept with utmost care and attention. Another causes of laminitis is the poor care of their hooves—neglected hoof with poor trimming and improper shoeing results in long toes. A long toe is a conformation that is difficult to heal, and therefore laminitis develops and causes serious implications.

There are some non-mechanical causes of laminitis that are important to consider:

Horses eating grain from bucket

- Overfeeding

- Horses that are kept on high carbohydrate diets are more prone to laminitis. A high carbohydrate diet, e.g., cereals consumption in excessive amounts.

- Infections of the gut, e.g., bowel infection, can result in toxemia. Toxins once enter the blood, go towards the limbs and cause destruction of the laminae.

- Laminitis can also develop due to severe adverse reactions to certain drugs. Overuse of certain medications like corticosteroids and antibiotics can result in laminitis and other issues in horses.

- After strenuous exercise, you should not let your horse drink cold water. Drinking a large amount of cold water after exercise may lead to laminitis.

- Horses that have a history of laminitis are prone to recurrence. Such horses may have a tumor of the pituitary gland or a metabolic disorder that can contribute to the recurrence of laminitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of laminitis?

The signs and symptoms of laminitis vary slightly with the severity of the condition. The affected area is swollen, feels warm to the touch, and the pulse at the heel’s artery is significantly strong. Most of the time, laminitis occurs in the forelegs; however, forelimbs and hindlimbs can both be affected.

A horse suffering from laminitis stands with a characteristic posture. The horse tends to keep the hind legs under the body and the forelegs completely wide as much as he can. The horse tries to keep off the weight from the affected limb as much as possible. The affected horse moves, trying to land their heels first to avoid the concussion to the painful feet.

Horse with laminitis will stand with his hind hooves under himself while his front hooves are stretched out to reduce weight bearing
Photo by: Washington Vet Clinic

What is the possible treatment of laminitis?

Farrier applying a horse shoe for corrective shoeing

It is essential to call your veterinarian immediately after recognizing the signs of laminitis in your horse. The treatment depends on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, the treatment plan is stable rest, restriction in the diet, anti-inflammatory medication, and corrective shoeing. Mild cases don’t take a long period to cure, and their prognosis is often not bad.

However, the severe case also needs medication to reduce the blood pressure to the limb, remedial hoof trimming, and prolong anti-inflammatory medication. In severe cases, the bone rotation is often observed by x rays, and treatment is based on the x-ray results. If the coffin bone penetrates the sole, the condition becomes fatal. When the prognosis is extreme, euthanasia should be performed on human grounds.

How can laminitis be prevented?

If you have a pony, you should keep a check on its diet. Ponies are evolved in the wild, and they are adapted to travel long distances without taking good quality diet. Therefore, ponies should be watched for abnormal weight. You should restrict grazing when the grass is lush.

You should not ignore illnesses acquiring infection such as colic, diarrhea, and infection of the uterus because toxemia is the major cause of laminitis in horses. You should also avoid hard exercise over solid grounds to avoid concussions. In addition, you should take proper care and groom your horse regularly. The hoof requires special care and attention because a horse without his hoof, is no horse at all! Find a farrier that can watch for changes and keep the hoof balanced.

red light therapy wrap on horse leg for laminitis prevention

How can Poll to Pastern help?

Regular acupressure or red light therapy sessions can be a great preventative care option for your horse. Both modalities can increase blood flow and keep the body healthy. There are great acupressure points located on and near the pastern to facilitate healthy blood flow. Red light therapy rejuvenates the cells in the body, encourages blood flow, reduces inflammation, repairs damaged tissues, and provides pain relief.

When laminitis occurs, your horse can still benefit from both acupressure and red light therapy because of the benefits mentioned above. You can pair these modalities with recommendations from your vet or farrier for great complementary care. Poll to Pastern provides red light therapy sessions that pair acupressure points with the session. We also provide red light therapy wrap rentals for a do it yourself method! Red light therapy is non-invasive, pain-free, drug-free and requires no down time! Contact us today for a session or discussion on red light therapy wrap rentals!

Final thoughts

Laminitis is a serious problem in horses. Horses become impaired, resulting in a huge loss if it is used for sports or working purposes. Keen attention and care are needed to keep horses safe from laminitis. Minor negligence or ignorance can lead to heavy losses; therefore, you should adopt preventive measures very carefully to protect your beloved horse from such deadly conditions. Remember: "no hoof, no horse."

Horse shown jumping with front hooves over the jump