All about laminitis

  • Laminitis is an extremely painful disease in which the blood supply to the sensitive laminae – the tissue which connects the pedal bone to the inside of the hoof wall – is disrupted causing the tissue to become inflammed and eventually die.

    Without the laminae to hold the pedal bone in place it separates from the hoof wall, rotating and pressing on the soft tissues below. In extreme cases the pedal bone may break through the sole of the horse’s hoof.

    Causes of laminitis

    Laminitis can be caused by the following:

    Excessive food intake: This ranges from the traditionally-susceptible overweight pony gorging itself on spring pasture, to a horse gaining access to the feed room and helping itself.

    Toxins: Toxins released by bacteria during certain illnesses, such as womb infections, often following a retained placenta, severe colic (or after colic surgery) and, less frequently, diarrhoea or respiratory disease.

    Trauma: Either in the form of concussion from exercise on hard ground or as a result of over-enthusiastic hoof trimming.

    Stress: Either for a short period (head collar caught on an immovable object or a pony stuck in a ditch) or over long periods (close confinement while separated from other horses, or long journeys).

    Tumour: The presence of a benign pituitary tumour (usually in horses over 20 years old) which results in an increased circulation of natural steroids – Cushing’s Disease.

    Drugs: Acombination of steriods and work on hard ground can increase the risk of laminitis.

    How to spot laminitis

    A horse suffering from acute laminitis will be reluctant to move and may lie down to try and reduce the pain. Once down it will be extremely reluctant to get to its feet.

    When standing it will stretch its forelegs out in front, carrying its weight on its heels. The hind legs will be well under the body and it may shift its weight from side to side.

    Early indications that a horse may be likely to suffer an acute attack include:

    • Poor performance: unwilling to go forward, refusing at jump
    • Increased fatty distension of the crest
    • Rapid weight gain
    • Shortened stride on hard ground
    • Frequent weight swapping from one fore foot to the other
    • Strong and rapid pulse in more than one lower limb.

    If you suspect laminitis seek professional advice immediately. A few hours’ delay may make the difference between a speedy resolution and irreversible foot changes.

    While waiting for the vet to arrive stable the horse in a deep shavings bed and do not force it to move or get up.

    Always seek the vet’s advice if a recently foaled mare retains the placenta for more than 23 hours.


    • Click here to purchase Explaining Laminitis and Its Prevention by Robert A Eustace from Amazon.


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