Most people who have spent any significant amount of time with horses will be familiar with the condition of laminitis. Whilst laminitis is most commonly seen in small, overweight ponies that have had too much spring grass, it is a serious condition affecting horses of all breeds, ages and sizes, and can also be caused by a number of other conditions such as septic shock, retained placentas in mares, and Cushing’s Disease in older horses and ponies.
Causes of laminitis
Laminitis is caused either by the actions of various hormones, or by substances called endotoxins circulating around the bloodstream, which are produced either from the fermentation of lush grass or from bacterial action elsewhere in the body. This causes an alteration of the blood supply in the foot, leading to damage of the sensitive laminae which attach the hoof wall to the bony structures of the foot and particularly to the pedal bone. In the early stages of the condition this damage is limited to inflammation, however in severe cases the tissues can be starved of blood and rapidly start to die. The longer the case is left, the more likely the development of irreversible damage to the hoof structures.
Laminitis can show as a variety of signs:
- A horse that is slightly uneven in shifting its weight on its forelegs.
- Progressing to horses that are increasingly uncomfortable and reluctant to move.
- In severe cases horses that lie down and refuse to get up because the pain in their feet is so severe.
Veterinary advice should be sought immediately, because the longer a case is left, the more severe the damage is likely to become. Unfortunately a number of severe laminitis cases do have to be humanely destroyed each year, simply because the damage to the hoof is too great, and it is impossible to relieve the pain and restore normal foot structure.
Treatment involves strict rest and the use of painkillers and drugs to alter the flow of blood in the hoof, and removal of the initial cause. X-rays are often taken of laminitic feet in order to assess the degree of damage to the hoof and to assess what further preventative and repair work needs to be undertaken. The vet will usually liaise closely with the farrier in order to reconstruct laminitic hooves and to support that damage that has occurred.
As with any condition, prevention is better than cure, so if you know that your horse or pony has had laminitis in the past it is worth taking preventative measures. Severe restrictions on grazing for overweight ponies is necessary to prevent overload with sugar-rich young grass, and very regular observation and examination of horses or ponies’ feet for any signs of laminitis. There are also a number of alternative feeds available for horses that are particularly prone to laminitis.
If you have any questions about laminitis, or are worried that your horse or pony may be at risk of developing the condition, please don’t hesitate to contact us and our equine vet Mike Jones BVetMed CertEP MRCVS, will be happy to advise you. We have also provided a link to a very useful resource on laminitis provided by Robert Eustace. More information from the Laminitis Clinic