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Laminitis in Horses

Laminitis in Horses - Information on Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Acute Laminitis In Horses

Laminitis is a debilitating condition that affects the tissues (laminae) that bind the bone to the wall of the hoof in a horse.

It is a crippling disease that when severe can even result in death. Laminitis can affect horses of any sex and at any age. If laminitis is not treated in time, it can result in severe pain and in many cases the animal may need to be euthanized to spare it the excruciating pain.

Causes of Laminitis

There are a number of possible causes of laminitis. The most common are:

• Excessive consumption of food
• Grain engorgement
• Side effect of a previous infection
• Side effects of previously administered drugs such as corticosteroids
• Cushing’s disease or cancer of the pituitary gland
• Concussion
• Excessive weight due to obesity or injury of the opposite leg
• Stress caused by long distance transport

Symptoms of Laminitis

The early symptoms of laminitis in horses include:

• Visible growth rings on the wall of the hoof
• Toes of the hoof that are flared and a hoof wall that is dished
• Abscess on the toe
• Haematomas on the toe
• Soles that are flaky
• Hoof edges that are broken away
• Feet that are sore especially on hard ground
• Gait that is shortened and does not improve with exercise
• Gait that worsens with hard work or fast movements

The early stage of laminitis is also known as sub-clinical laminitis.

It is during this stage that the hoof begins to undergo structural changes. The horse is not yet visibly lame during this phase making diagnosis difficult.  

Symptoms of acute laminitis in horses include

• The pony or horse may resist being moved
• The horse bears all his weight on the unaffected legs
• His front legs may appear stretched forward and look like he is ‘sitting’
• In severe cases, he may spend time lying flat on his side
• In cases of acute laminitis, the pedal bone in the horse’s foot may be pulled right through the sole of the hoof. If this happens the horse has to be put down.

Treatment of Laminitis in Horses

Symptoms of laminitis should always be treated as a medical emergency.

Call your vet immediately as early treatment is crucial to prevent the development of founder – another crippling condition. Other steps you can take include:

• Do not exercise your horse or let him roam freely in a pasture. If he has to travel a long distance back to his stable, invest in a trailer to transport him.

• Immerse the horse’s feet in cold water.

• Your vet may prescribe medication such as sedatives and painkillers if required. Depending on the cause, antihistamines, antibiotics, or corticosteroids may be administered.

• Frog supports may need to be fitted on to the affected hoof to prevent further damage.

• An appropriate horse diet is important for the treatment of laminitis. There are cases where some foods may trigger the condition, such as grains or cereals that contain high levels of starch.

• Restrict your horse’s intake of green grass and grain (found in the countryside during spring and autumn) as this reduces the amount of lactic acid produced and reduces the risk of developing laminitis.  

• Feed your horse a diet high on forage. Mature grass, hay and alfalfa are recommended to improve hoof quality.

• Ensure that your horse has enough water to prevent the risk of colic.

• Monitor your horse’s weight as being overweight can increase the chance of developing laminitis. However, severely restricting your horse’s diet or starving him can lead to a condition known as hyperlipaemia and possibly death.

• Contact a specialist to ensure that your horse is shoed properly. He may need regular trimming to ensure correct balance in all feet.

• Maintain the overall health of your horse as other medical conditions such as colic also put him in a high-risk category for laminitis.

• Avoid overworking ponies and horses on hard roads or during winter.

• Magnesium supplements may help prevent recurring attacks of laminitis.

  Submitted on April 25, 2012