Laminitis in horses | Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

What is laminitis in horses?

Laminitis is an inflammatory condition of the sensitive layers (laminae) within a horse’s hoof. It is a condition found in horses all year round that can lead to extreme pain and have significant welfare implications to the horse. In all cases diagnosis of laminitis is a medical emergency as severe cases can be fatal.

Laminitis in horses

Laminitis is unlike many other diseases experienced by horses. The term means inflammation of the laminae which can lead to the soft tissues with the hoof wall to swell, weaken and even fail. Once the process has begun it can be extremely complicated and costly to stop. In severe or long term cases the condition can lead to founder, and external and visible deformity of the hoof.

Horses with laminitis will often stand with an awkward gait, leaning their weight on both hind or rear legs at the same time and shifting the weight far more often than they normally would. The condition is painful for many horses and requires immediate medical attention.

Causes of Laminitis

There are three general situations in which a horse can develop laminitis.

The most common cause of laminitis across the world is Obesity Dependant Laminitis. In simple terms, an overweight horse. When a horse over eats and becomes overweight this, as with humans, puts considerable stress on the horses heart, joints and breathing. Diagnosis of obesity dependant laminitis is greatly increased when a horse or pony is chronically over its recommended weight.

Another situation where laminitis ca be caused is Insulin Resistance Laminitis. The hormone insulin is involved in the regulation of sugar levels in the blood and tissues of a horses body. When eating, insulin is secreted into the blood stream. Insulin resistance is found when the insulin stops supporting the tissues in the same way. Horses and ponies naturally compensate for insulin resistance by releasing more insulin into the bloodstream further, which can be used to test for horses with insulin resistance. Research has shown insulin resistance to be a factor when diagnosing the development of laminitis.

And finally the third cause of equine laminitis is known as Nutrition Induced laminitis. This is where the horse takes on excessive volumes of carbohydrates. The natural way in which a horse digests carbohydrates, starches and sugars is in the small intestine. When excessive consumption occurs the small intestine cannot cope and overflow into the hindgut. This creates a toxic environment with the hindgut which can leak into the blood system.

The exact sequence of events which can lead to the diagnosis of laminitis remains unclear. The precise trigger is unknown but it is known that inflammation throughout the body can result in the inflammation or swelling of the laminae.

As well as the main causes listed above laminitis can occur following other conditions such as equine metabolic syndrome, Cushing’s Disease, poor diet, cold weather, sever cases of colic and infections. The condition can be extremely complicated to predict and can be a reoccurring issue.

Laminitis Symptoms

There are several ways to establish whether your horse may have or be developing symptoms of laminitis. As laminitis is a medical emergency, if you do feel your horse is showing early signs of laminitis then prompt action is required including seeking professional medical advice.

The most common and easiest sign of your horse having laminitis is by establishing their digital pulse. Slide your hand down the side of your horses leg, between the fetlock joint and the hoof. Locate the digital artery which runs down the back of the fetlock and establish the horses pulse. Normally a healthy horse will have a feint pulse, in laminitis horses this pulse is much stronger and often referred to as ‘bounding’.

"Thank you so much for donating a pair of your StreamZ bands to Breeze. She is a 4 year old therapy pony who was rescued as a foal, her and her mum were starved and unfortunately this left Breeze with a series of health issues including bad feet due to lack of nutrients as a foal. She recently diagnosed with mechanical laminitis and was very lame, but with the help of her EQU StreamZ bands and some new shoes she’s is making a great recovery! Everyone at TEAL (and Breeze of course!) are very thankful to StreamZ and so are all our clients as she can now continue her therapeutic work with them! Many thanks to you all!" - Teal Equine Charity

You can also feel the heat of your horses hoof and if the hoof feels excessively hot for a period of time this may indicate a high influx of blood into the hoof. Often easier to establish in colder climates and not to be mistaken for simply having heated up in the sun. Pay attention if the hoof temperature is more than 91.4ºf or 33ºc or hotter than the outside temperature for longer than a few hours.

You can sometimes detect early signs of laminitis by seeing distorted hoof growth. In healthy horses the rings of the hoof grow in rings mostly commonly evenly, with laminitis however the growth pattern no longer become uniform. This can create the hoof to curve upwards.

More obvious signs of laminitis can be found in the way the horse is standing and moving its feet. Commonly horses with laminitis will start to lift their feet more than often, or the opposite, not lift them as much. Their stride lengths will also change to much shorter strides often prior to showing signs of limping. These are more apparent and obvious on harder surfaces.

Another early indication of suspected laminitis is the horses weight. An obese or overweight horse is more likely to be insulin resistant and in many cases this is down to feed and/or pasture.

Finally, inflammatory responses (including digestive issues and inflammation caused by infections) can also lead to bouts of laminitis. A common method applied to support early signs of an inflammatory response is to reduce heat or prevent further increase in temperature. Avoid traditional magnetic boots which create heat.

"My 10 year old mare developed laminitis in her hind feet last year. She spent 8 months on box rest and the bands have been invaluable over this time. Getting good blood circulation while confined to her stable was a difficulty but the Streamz bands have really helped. Previously any overnight stabling has resulted in filled legs but she had no problems at all with that throughout her long recovery. I can highly recommend them!" - Jo Simpson

Preventing & Treating Laminitis

It is suggested that up to 15% of all horses will develop laminitis at some stage in their lives, with as many as 3 out of 4 of these permanently effecting their wellbeing. Because of these statistics laminitis is one of those conditions that horse owners dread.

If left alone laminitis in horses can lead to permanent unsoundness, excruciating pain and in some cases euthanasia. Options in treating laminitis are so limited that many owners look to prevent laminitis as part if their ongoing care and maintenance program. In most cases, unfortunately, if your horse is showing symptoms it is often too late.

In recent years research has shown there are several methods in which can be applied to all horses care to aid the prevention of laminitis in horses and ponies.

Two metabolic disorders associated with laminitis can be tested for; this would be a good place to start. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is an endocrine disorder which is effected by abnormally high levels of insulin in the horses blood stream – this can be tested for by a vet. It is widely reported that horses most affected are those who are overweight or obese so preventing this is based around strictly controlling the animals diet and exercise.

Secondly, Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) which is also known as Cushing’s Disease is something which can be used to indicate early signs of laminitis. Cushings is caused when the pituitary glands malfunction and release high levels of hormones throughout the horses system. This often leads to a long and heavy coat which sheds very slowly, a significant loss in muscle mass, reduced energy levels, and more susceptible to infections. PPID is more common in horses over fifteen years of age but can be seen in all horses of any age. Upon diagnosis of Cushing’s a medication is available to owners with contains an active ingredient also used to treat Parkinsons in humans. This diagnosis would indicate potential risk of laminitis.

"My 17.3 hand 8 year old Gedling was diagnosed with laminitis, rotation of the pedal bone and was given 6-12 months to come back into work. (if he was lucky!) He also has joint problems in both his hocks, one stifle and an old back problem where he fractured his vertebrae and detached his ligaments. He has been wearing his EQU StreamZ magnetic bands for a few weeks now and I have my horse back! He is sound, acting his age again and is back to flatwork! I highly recommend this product!!" - Jemma Greatbanks

It is of vital importance that owners manage their horses diet, particularly if your horse has a metabolic disorder. Even small or standard portions of sugar or starch in grains and green grass can trigger a laminitis episode. Preventing your horse from eating too much green grass can be a challenge. Most horses will do fine on grass hay without added concentrates but in some cases supplements which carefully control the sugar and starch levels would be advised.

Some owners like to soak their hay before feeding the horse. Even grass contains simple starch and sugars called nonstructural carbohydrates (NCSs) which are water soluble and thus can be soaked in water prior to feeding to reduce the concentrates of the nutrients. (make sure you feed the horse immediately after soaking to avoid contamination with moulds, etc and that you have not limited their vitamin intake too much by doing this)

Carefully and consistently manage your horses pasture access. Lush green grass looks lovely, but the saying “the grass is green on the other side” also has significant impact on whether your horse develops laminitis or not. Sugar and starch levels in grass fluctuate throughout the seasons with new shoots representing the highest levels of starch and sugars, carefully managing of the pasture around spring time is there for required. In some cases horses will require a muzzle to prevent them form continuously eating.

Another form of laminitis, systematic inflammation, is caused when toxins or bacteria gets into the bloodstream. Th best known triggers for this type of laminitis is once again by carefully managing the horses diet, avoid starch overload and make any dietary changes gradually and not all at once.

Finally, the final way to prevent laminitis is to pay careful attention to your horses hoofs and take good care of them. Unusual physical stress on your horses hooves can put significant impact on the laminae and as long as your horse is cared for appropriately then this type of laminitis is rare. Make sure you keep up with regular hoof trimming by your farrier and that you choose the appropriate footing for that horse.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is laminitis in horses?

Laminitis in horses is inflammation of the laminae which can lead to significant medical intervention.

What are the most common signs of laminitis in horses?

Your horses hoofs will feel hot to touch and the horse is likely to shift their weight from one leg to another more than usual. In most cases the horse will show signs of being lame.

Can laminitis in horses be cured?

Laminitis can be managed but no cure has been clinically proven. Prevention is as important as cure.

What is founder versus laminitis?

The term ‘founder’ is an alternative name for laminitis often used in the United States and North America.

Can I use traditional magnets on my laminitis horse?

No. To support your horse with laminitis you need to reduce heat to the local area, not increase it. Streamz unique magnetic approach creates no heat and thus can be used alongside a horse diagnosed with laminitis.

What leg on my horse should I attach the Streamz bands to in the hope it helps my horse with laminitis symptoms?

StreamZ technology can be worn on any leg; which ever suits your horse. Our team would advise placing the bands n the legs which the horse is applying more weight on.

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