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Horses suffering from laminitis adopt a characteristic stance on their heels to take the weight off their painful toes and, because of their sore feet, they shift weight from one to the other.

An increased digital pulse is also common to all cases, although other symptoms vary depending on the severity of the attack.

Amild case affecting just one foot is sometimes mistaken for bruising or concussion, while in acute cases the animal may lie down and refuse to get up. This may be accompanied by sweating and groaning, often giving rise to the misdiagnosis of colic or azoturia.

Coping with an acute attack

  • Remove the horse from the cause of the attack (eg: bring him in from the field if the attack was caused by rich grass)
  • Call a vet immediately
  • Provide a deep shavings bed in the stable
  • Do not exercise or move the horse (use a horsebox or trailer if the horse must be moved)
  • Do not remove the horse’s shoes if the sole is flat or convex
  • Do not starve the horse as this could cause hyperlipaemia
  • Feed a diet of forage and high fibre/low starch chopped feeds – the most suitable carry the Laminitis Trust approval mark
  • Feeding Farrier’s Formula supplement is recommended
  • If the horse hasn’t improved with three days, reassess the case and have blood and urine samples and X-rays taken.
  • Drugs are the only effective means of improving the condition and any exercise will only cause more pain and increase the likelihood of the horse suffering from founder or sinker.

Founder and sinker

The recovery and survival rates of laminitics depend on how advanced the condition is and if founder or sinker has occurred.

If the laminitis has progressed to founder there will be a depression around the front part of the coronary band, indicating that the laminae at the front of the foot have separated and the pedal bone has dropped. The deeper the depression, the worse the founder.

If depression extends all the way around the coronary band right back to both heels the horse is classified as a sinker. This means all the laminae have separated and the horse has at best a 20% chance of survival.

Sinkers don’t adopt the classic laminitic stance and are very reluctant to move at all. If they are given painkillers, they will slap their feet down on the ground when they walk, as they are no longer properly attached to their hooves.