Laminitis is a year-round concern for horse owners, so find out how to recognise it and what to do if your horse is showing signs...
Laminitis is an inflammatory condition of the laminae within a horse’s feet – the tissues that attach the pedal bone to the hoof wall inside the hoof capsule. When the sensitive laminae become inflamed they are unable to swell as they are restricted by the structure of the hoof. This leads to the horse feeling extreme pain and adopting the classic leaning back on the heels posture in an attempt to relieve the pressure from the front of the hoof. In the most severe cases the horses will lie down as their feet are too painful to bear weight.
An acute new episode or flare up of laminitis is a veterinary emergency and an equine vet should be called to assess any horse with suspected laminitis as a matter of urgency. Some horses and ponies have long standing chronic laminitis, which may not be an immediate emergency, but still needs proper care and attention. According to the RVC1 more than 7% of equine deaths are linked to laminitis, with many cases being put down on welfare grounds.
Laminitis can develop very rapidly. It can result in the pedal bone sinking or rotating within the hoof and in extreme cases the pedal bone can drop so far that it penetrates through the sole. If the pedal bone completely detaches from the hoof wall then the horse has ‘foundered’ and euthanasia may be the only option.
Lameness is typically seen in all four legs, although the forelegs may appear more badly affected.