Laminitis is the name given to a disease process that causes inflammation (“…itis”) to the “laminae” of the horse’s hoof. Laminae are the interleaving tissues that hold the hoof wall
onto the underlying tissues of the horse’s foot. Inflammation of these laminae causes swelling to the tissues within the hoof capsule, and a disruption of the normal blood flow to the foot.
This is very painful. In severe cases, with increasing damage to the laminae, the pedal bone can become destabilised, and sink downwards from it’s normal position towards the horse’s sole.
What does laminitis look like?
Laminitis is often thought of as a disease of both front feet. However we also
see laminitis in all four feet, back feet only, or just in one foot. The signs
of disease all relate to foot pain. In acute laminitis, these include:
Reluctance to move, particularly on hard surfaces or when turning tight circles.
Characteristic stance, with the forefeet stretched out in front, and the hind
limbs tucked underneath the body.
During walking the horse will land in his heels rather than his toe.
Hot feet, with a thumping digital pulse, felt at the back of the pastern.
Laminitis may also have a more chronic, or insidious onset. Here, signs of disease may include rings on the hoof wall, flat feet. There is often a lower grade of pain, but the characteristic heel – toe gait remains.
Causes of laminitis
This used to be thought of as a disease only of fat ponies, but any breed of horse can get laminitis.
High risk factors are:
Overfeeding – excessive amounts of both cereals, and young fresh grass.
Illness – any severe infection causing a horse to have a high temperature, and become sick.
This may also include retained afterbirth post foaling.
Secondary to other disease such as Cushing’s disease.
Excessive weight bearing on one leg due to injury to another leg.
Overwork on hard surfaces.
If your horse has signs of acute laminitis, call the vet. Your horse has a much better chance of recovery if treatment is started early.
Stable him on a deep shavings bed to provide a soft surface to stand on.
Allow him to lie down to take the weight off his feet.
Do not starve him, allow limited access to good quality hay. Sudden starvation will often make the situation worse.
Chronic laminitis is not necessarily an emergency. It is still important you contact your vet for advice.
What will the vet do?
Once the vet has examined the horse and confirmed he has laminitis, it may be necessary to X-Ray his feet. This will provide vital information on whether the pedal bone has moved and allow the treatment to vary accordingly. The vet may also take a blood sample to look for underlying disease if the cause is not obvious.
The underlying problem must first be treated. This may mean treating the horse for whatever is making him ill, or just removing the horse from the field of lush grass.
Anti-inflammatories are used as painkillers.
Vasodilators are used to improve the blood flow to the feet.
Frog supports are applied to the feet. These allow distribution of the weight off the front wall of the hoof, and support the frog, which has to take more of the load.
Once the horse is comfortable, therapeutic farriery is often necessary. We often need to rasp off the diseased hoof wall at the toe to allow healthy wall to re-grow. Also shoes such as heart bars are often needed to continue to support the horse’s heels.
Daily management changes are needed to prevent a relapse of the condition. Routine foot care is vital. The feet must be kept well trimmed and balanced. It may be necessary to carry on using bar shoes.
Dietary management is all-important. Provide a diet containing adequate nutrition without excessive carbohydrate.
Do not overfeed cereals – feed plenty of hay and haylage instead.
Avoid excessive intake of young fresh lush (spring) grass.
Try to keep ponies at a reasonable weight. If they are to fat cut back on their feeding, and restrict access to excessive amounts of grass. Encourage gradual rather than excessive weight loss.
Taken From MccVets