Laminitis in horses: causes, symptoms and protection
It’s important for horse owners to be aware of laminitis, to know how to prevent it and to be able to spot symptoms early in order to maximise the chances of successful treatment.
What is laminitis?
Laminitis is an inflammatory condition that affects a horse’s hooves. It can result in lameness, although recent studies have shown that laminitis can be present in the horse’s body – and making changes to the hooves – long before lameness becomes a threat.
Noticing laminitis in its early stages is important as it gives owners and vets the chance to adjust their management methods, treating the underlying disease to prevent pain rather than managing painful symptoms that have already materialised.
Laminitis causes will depend on the type of laminitis the horse is suffering from:
Toxaemic laminitis – laminitis caused by a septic condition.
Load-bearing laminitis – laminitis caused by bearing too much weight (if one foot is injured, for example, the horse will naturally place more weight on another).
Endocrine laminitis – laminitis in association with a hormonal disease. This is the most common form of laminitis.
Historically, it was believed that laminitis was a disease of the foot & hoof and that its main cause was pasture consumption. Now though, it’s widely understood among experts that laminitis is a collection of clinical signs that result from other, whole-body diseases.
Horses with laminitis will either display signs of pain or inflammation of their hooves, or the hooves themselves may appear different.
Signs of pain:
- Lying down more than usual
- Reluctance to move around, especially on hard surfaces
- Awkward-looking movements
- Shifting weight from leg to leg
Signs of hoof changes:
- Cracks in the hoof wall
- A change to the shape of the hoof
- A white line around the hoof
Laminitis will require the help of a vet. Treatments vary according to the severity of the condition but there are lengths owners or carers can take to prevent the symptoms from getting worse.
Horses should be taken to a comfortable stable where they can relax. Provide comfortable bedding, food and clean drinking water.
The vet will treat painful conditions and may check your horse for signs of underlying hormonal conditions – the likely cause of their laminitis. The vet will also recommend measures you can take to aid your horse’s recovery.
Stay on the lookout for the conditions that can lead to laminitis – septic conditions, hormonal diseases and hoof problems. It also helps to have your horse checked over regularly by a vet.
If your horse is behaving abnormally in any way, contact your vet right away.
Check their hooves at least every week. If you spot divergent hoof rings or any irregularities with the shape or condition of your horse’s hooves, contact your equine vet before the condition has time to get worse.
Need more info?
If you have further questions about laminitis or any aspect of your horse’s welfare, have a chat with your equine vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.