Laminitis is the inflammation of the sensitive laminae of a horse's foot resulting from the disruption of blood flow to the foot. It is a serious and painful disease; the complications of laminitis may result in the horse needing to be euthanized.
Most often, it is the front hooves that are affected, although a horse may have laminitis in one or both hind feet as well. Founder is a related condition in which the coffin bone in the foot rotates as a result of damage to the laminae.
Although laminitis occurs in the feet, the underlying causes and risk factors vary:
- Overeating (overfeeding or accidental access to feed area resulting in bingeing)
- Abrupt changes in diet, such as sudden access to lush pastures
- Untreated infections or illnesses with a high fever
- Retained placenta
- Excessive weight bearing on one leg due to injury
- Hard ground, prolonged transportation or excessive work on hard surfaces
- Bedding containing black walnut shavings
- Ingestion of cold water when the horse is overheated
- Cushing's Disease, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism or other endocrine abnormalities
- Corticosteroid treatment
Symptoms of Acute Laminitis
- Lameness, reluctant gait, difficulty walking
- Heat and increased pulse in the feet
- Pain in the toe region when pressure is applied
- Sawhorse stance with front feet stretched out to alleviate pressure on toes
The sooner treatment begins, the better the horse's chances for recovery. Unfortunately, some horses suffer such severe damage that they need to be humanely euthanized. Treatment may include:
- Treating any systemic or underlying medical conditions
- Dietary restrictions
- Antibiotics for infection, if present, and draining abscesses
- Pain medication
- Encouraging the horse to lie down to relieve pressure on the laminae
- Therapeutic shoeing, trimming or supports for the foot
The best prevention is to limit the causes under your control:
- Keep grain stored securely.
- Gradually introduce your horse to lush pasture.
- Limit grass intake with a grazing mask. Provide routine health and hoof care.
- Consult with your veterinarian to formulate an appropriate dietary plan.
- Most importantly, if you suspect laminitis for any reason, notify your veterinarian immediately.
- Sick, stressed, or overweight horses are at higher risk. Recurrence is a risk for horses who have had laminitis.
Extra care is recommended for those who have had laminitis, including:
- Balanced diet, without excess grains
- Routine hoof care and therapeutic shoeing, if needed
- A health maintenance program, including parasite control and vaccinations
Published: March 23, 2009; Updated: June 1, 2015
Filed Under: Equine
Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association