Equine Laminitis


This stance is typical of a horse suffering pain from laminitis.  The rear legs are moved forward to reduce pressue on the front hooves.

This stance is typical of a horse who is suffering from laminitis. The rear legs are positioned forward to relieve stress on the front hooves.

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis is a condition of the foot that can become very painful in horses.  It is when the coffin bone and the inner hoof wall begin to separate from each other.  The coffin bone is attached to the hoof wall by two interlocking layers of connecting tissues called laminae.  If the tissues for whatever reason get inflamed or the blood supply is disturbed then the attachment between the laminae will fail and the hoof wall will become separated from the rest of the foot.  Once this separation occurs, the coffin bone will often rotate within the foot.  This is due to a combination of the tension of the deep digital flexor tendon and the weight of the horse.  This separation of the coffin bone from the hoof wall and the possible subsequent rotation of the coffin bone will result in varying degrees of change, the worst case scenario involves the coffin bone rotating so much that the tip of the bone penetrates the sole of the foot.

Signs of Laminitis

There are numerous signs of Laminitis in horses.  Usually there will be an increased temperature of the wall, sole, and/or coronary band of the foot.  Pus may leak out at the coronary band or at the white line. Horses may have anxiety or visible trembling. A pounding pulse in the digital palmar artery can occur, which may be undetectable in a cold horse but will be more obvious after hard exercise.  Horses with Laminitis will often walk very tenderly, “easing” on the affected feet.  Horses experiencing pain will attempt to decrease the weight load on the affected feet by standing in an awkward stance.  Often to reduce the weight of the front hooves they will position their hindlegs underneath their body and move their forelegs forward.  Horses may have a tendency to lie down whenever possible, and if extreme to remain lying down.

Causes of Laminitis

There are many causes of Horse Laminitis that have been identified.  The most common cause is the sudden and excessive ingestion of non-structural carbohydrates (i.e. sugars and starches).  This is where a horse eats too much grain or lush grass and cannot digest all of the carbohydrates.  Obese and overweight horses with minimal exercise are very susceptible to Equine Laminitis.  Laminitis has also been linked to toxic conditions such as retained placenta or salmonella enteritis.  Cushing’s Disease is now believed to have a major role in Equine Laminitis.  Laminitis can develop in a good limb if it is subject to excessive weight bearing due to severe lameness in the other.  There have also been reports of Laminitis following the administration of some drugs, especially corticosteroids.

If you suspect Laminitis, what should you do?

If you suspect that your horse has Laminitis it is very important to respond quickly.  Early signs of Equine Laminitis can quickly and easily escalate to serious conditions.  You should contact your veterinarian immediately.  Place your horse in a stable with a deep bed to provide extra cushion to the feet.  It is not recommended to walk the horse because you can risk doing further damage, since the laminae are fragile and torn.

Your vet will then assess the situation and determine if any immediate treatment is required.  Laminitis is a very painful condition and so the vet will usually initially focus on pain relief.  Drugs may also be administered to improve the circulation to the feet.  Radiographs may be taken to determine if any rotation has occurred, and special shoes may be applied to support the foot.

Recovery from Laminitis is a slow process and will take months rather than days.  Therefore it is very important to have patience and provide diligent aftercare during the treatment.  Even after a recovery, some horses may be prone to future laminitic episodes, therefore it is important to continue preventive measures.  If the case is very severe euthanasia may be the only option.

When can the horse be ridden again?

A majority of horses that have been diagnosed and treated for Equine Laminitis will be able to be ridden again.  The length of time until this is possible is dependent on the severity of the condition.  If there is any rotation at all the damaged areas will take at least eight months to grow out.  If there is no rotation then correction of the predisposing factors and a few months rest should be considered.  Your vet should ultimately determine when it is safe for you to start riding again.  Because of the susceptibility to future reoccurrences of Equine Laminitis it is important to keep an eye out and if any signs appear you should stop riding until you consult your vet.

How can you prevent Laminitis?

In overweight horses it is very important to practice weight control.  Make sure feed sheds are securely closed and restrict access to lush pastures.  It is also very important to ride your horse daily.  If the hoof quality is poor nutritional supplements such as biotin supplements should be given and regular visits from your farrier are encouraged to maintain a well-balanced foot.

Natural options for Lamintis

Current research shows that horses afficted with Laminitis benefit from diets high in OMEGA-3 fatty acids.  One of the best ways to ensure your horse is receiving enough OMEGA-3 fatty acids is through dietary supplements.  Equi-Bloom is a highly stable, flavored OMEGA-3 fatty acid supplement for horses.  Additionally, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc are included in Equi-Bloom to replace any deficiencies in the diet.

If your horse is overweight and needs to be on a weight loss diet.  It can be important to introduce an adaptogen supplement into the diet.  Adaptogens are substances that are safe for long term use with few side effects, do not create physiological changes in physical parameters and increase the animal’s ability to adapt to a variety of stresses.  APF Plus is a herbal supplement made up of a combination of 5 adaptogens.  In addition APF Plus has an anticatabolic effect in that it conserves skeletal muscle even when the subject is on a weight loss nutrition regime. There is little loss of muscle mass and a utilization of lipids.