Laminitis is the name given to the disease process that causes inflammation to the laminae of the horse’s hoof. Laminae are the interleaving sensitive tissues that hold the hoof wall onto the underlying tissues of the foot. Inflammation causes swelling to the tissues within the hoof capsule and disruption to the normal blood flow of the foot. This can be very painful to the horse. In severe cases the pedal bone can become destabilised and sink downwards from it’s normal position towards the sole.
What does laminitis look like?
People often think that laminitis is a disease of the front feet. However we see laminitis in all four feet, back feet only or even just one foot. Signs of acute, sudden onset, laminitis include:
- Reluctance to move
- Characteristic stance with the front feet stretched out in front and the hindlimbs tucked underneath the body
- The horse lands on it’s heel rather than toes when walking
- Hot feet
- Thumping digital pulse felt at the back of the pastern
Laminitis may also have a more chronic, insidious onset. Signs of disease include rings on the hoof wall and flat feet. There is often a lower grade of pain but the characteristic heel – toe gait remains.
Causes of laminitis
Laminitis used to be thought of as a disease of fat ponies, but any breed of horse can suffer from it.
High risk factors include:
- Overfeeding – excessive amounts of both cereals and fresh grass
Illness – any severe infection causing a horse to have a high temperature. This also includes retained afterbirth post foaling
- Cushing’s Disease – laminitis can occur as a secondary problem
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 your vet. The horse has aour horse has signs of acute laminitis, call your vet. The horse has a much better chance of recovery if treatment is started early
- Stable your horse on a deep bed to provide a soft surface to stand on
- Allow him to lie down and take the weight off his feet
- Allow very limited access to hay and feed no concentrates
What will the vet do?
- First of all the underlying problem must be treated. This may mean treatment for infection or just removing the horse from a field of lush grass
- It may be necessary to x-ray your horse’s feet. This provides us with information on whether the pedal bone has moved and allows us to tailor treatment accordingly
- Anti-inflammatories such as bute are used as painkillers
- Vasodilators (ACP injections) can be used to improve blood flow to the feet
- Frog supports may be applied to the feet, allowing distribution of the weight off the front wall of the hoof. The frogs take more of the load but are supported
Once the horse is comfortable, therapeutic farriery is often necessary. The diseased hoof wall at the toe is often rasped off, allowing healthy wall to re-grow. Heart bar shoes are sometimes used 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, as the feet must be kept well trimmed and balanced. It may be necessary to continue using heart bar shoes.
- Dietary management is very important. A diet should contain adequate nutrition without excessive amounts of carbohydrates.
- Do not overfeed cereals – feed hay and haylage instead
- Avoid excessive intake of fresh lush grass
Try to keep ponies at a reasonable weight. If they are fat, cut back on feeding and restrict access to excessive amounts of fresh grass. Encourage gradual weight loss rather than ‘crash dieting’!