Laminitis is a painful condition of the horse’s feet most commonly affecting front legs. It is often associated with spring grass growth and overweight ponies.

What is it?
Laminitis is a painful condition where the laminae of the hoof become inflamed.  Laminae are strong elastic tissues that connect the pedal bone to the hoof wall.  When laminae continue to suffer damage it can cause separation of the pedal bone and hoof wall.

How do I spot it?
Affected horses / ponies / donkeys will often very suddenly look tender to walk on their feet and this will be worse on firm ground.  The hooves may feel hot and pulses may become obvious behind the lower fetlock area.  In severe cases the affected individual may be too sore to stand and be off food.  When stood, painful laminitics often hold what is known as a ‘rocking-horse stance’ where they sit back onto their back legs to take pressure off their front feet.
What causes it?
Spring grass or heavy grain diets have high levels of carbohydrates that when eaten produce high blood sugars resulting in persistent high insulin hormone being released from the pancreas.  These high levels of insulin have been shown in recent years to be heavily associated with laminitic bouts and appear to be the reason horses suffering from ‘Equine Metabolic Syndrome’ (EMS) & PPID (formerly Cushings disease) more frequently suffer from this painful disease.  This is now considered a major cause of pasture-associated laminitis.

Other causes of laminitis are:

  • Toxic disease
  • Retained placental membranes post foaling
  • Colitis
  • Grain overload (accidental breakout into grain supply)

How do I treat it?
If you suspect laminitis you should contact one of our equine vets straight away as early treatment to reduce inflammation is the best way to reduce long term damage from hoof wall separation and ‘founder’ (where the pedal bone drops or rotates as support to hold it is lost). 
For first aid whilst you await a visit/phone call from our vets:

  • Where possible move the individual onto soft ground.  Deep sand appears to be the most comfortable for them but straw/shavings beds, rubber matting, soft paddock, etc are all better than solid yards. 

  • If the animal wants to sit, allow it to as this will keep pressure off its feet.

  • If the animal can’t move, make sure water and hay are provided at its location.

  • Replace pasture with hay

    • Fresh hay requires soaking for several hours before draining and feeding to reduce sugar levels

    • Soaked hay may help prevent dehydration through the dietary change

 Once the initial phase has passed, long term control includes corrective farriery/trimming and dietary control which your vet will help you plan.  We may also suggest testing for hormonal conditions that can increase the risk of attacks & x-rays to evaluate how much change in the feet has occurred.

How do I prevent it?
As mentioned above, EMS and PPID are two conditions whose presence can greatly increase risk of laminitis so early detection and management of these is paramount in preventing outbreaks.  Laminitis can be the only obvious sign of one of these conditions existing in their horse/pony/donkey so discussing these syndromes with your vet if your horse has ever suffered from laminitis is important.
Increased fresh growing grass during Spring and Autumn makes even bare looking paddocks dangerous (you only see the growth in a grazed paddock once it has overwhelmed the eating capacity of those in it!).  Consider use of grazing muzzles to slow consumption and yarding with hay during daylight when sugar levels are highest in the grass.
In at-risk horses, only use hard feed if needed (to provide adequate minerals and vitamins products such as Platinum Performance can be used alone) and when required chose unmolassed, low GI products or those based on oil rather than grain energy sources.
To control EMS, we recommend keeping your horse at a body condition score of no more than 3/5 (6/9 on the Henneke scale) by dietary control and exercise.  Also keep a close watch on the crest as it is a well-recognised phenomenon that this can increase in size and suddenly become hard just as a laminitis attack is about to occur.
Regular hoof trimming/re-shoeing (every 4-6 weeks) prevents overgrown toes that increase pressure on the laminae.  It won’t prevent a laminitis attack, but well-tended to hooves are better prepared should one occur.

Please contact one of the Franklin Vets Equine Veterinarians for further information on products and a management plan specific for your situation.