5 Things Every Horse Owner Needs To Know about Laminitis


1. What is laminitis?

Laminitis is a painful and potentially crippling disease that can be fatal to horses and ponies. It affects the sensitive layers of tissue (laminae) inside the hoof in horses and ponies. It is particularly prevalent in ponies feeding on rich spring grass and can cause extreme lameness.

2. Who Can Get it?

Although no horse or pony is immune to laminitis, there are particular breeds, health conditions and lifestyles that make some animals more vulnerable. So, if your horse or pony has one or more of the following criteria mean they may be more vulnerable than others and will need more careful attention to their hoof health so that you can spot the signs of laminitis quickly and do something about it:

  • Native breeds or a ponies
  • Those with Cushing’s Syndrome (PPID), Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), insulin irregularities or a history of laminitis
  • Overweight animals especially those with a cresty neck
  • Those who have an excessive intake of starch, sugar and fructans, often consumed through grazing
3.What Are the Signs of Laminitis?

There are several things you should be on the look out for when checking for laminitis:

Strong Digital Pulse: You can check this by feeling the pulse at the horse’s fetlock (see image)  In a healthy horse, it should be faint and difficult to find so a strong, throbbing pulse may suggest there is a problem.digital_pulse

Excessive Heat: When checking the digital pulse, also assess the temperature of your horse’s feet. Temperatures  can go up and down but if you notice there is significant heat  that suddenly comes on and stays for several hours you should be on alert for laminitis.do fluctuate but heat that develops suddenly or is sustained for a few hours can be an indicator of laminitis.

Laminitic Stance: If your horse or pony is standing stiffly or appears to be trying to put more weight on its hind feet it may be trying to alleviate discomfort in the front feet which is the most common place for laminitis to strike.

Shifting and Lifting: Watch for the excessive lifting of just one hoof or constant shifting of weight from one foot to another.

Walking: If your horse or pony os reluctant to walk, especially on hard surfaces or when walking in a circle – there is a possibility that laminitis may be the problem.  Look for a shortened stride, ‘pottery’ steps (where they place the heel down before the toe). Your pony may also want to lie down to take the weight off his feet.

4. What If I suspect my Pony Has Laminitis?
  • Call a vet immediately. Correct treatment needs to be given as soon as possible to prevent any lasting damage to the feet and provide pain relief.
  • Remove your pony from the grass. Move your pony to a small stable and fill it with a deep bed of shavings, cardboard or sand to help provide support for the sole of the foot.
  • Take away any feed, but do not starve your pony. Consult your vet about a suitable diet. Ensure there is plenty of fresh water available.
  • Do not cold hose or soak your pony’s feet in cols water as prolonged exposure to cold will also damage its feet.
5. How can I prevent Laminitis?
  • Horse owners should monitor their horses’ diets carefully and feed in accordance to your horse’s workload and type.
  • Restrict grass intake by using electric tape to strip graze. Don’t worry -ponies can survive on very little! Grass is very high in soluble carbohydrates (fructans), which can lead to laminitis if your pony eats a large volume of it –  especially in spring and autumn. Or, limit grazing time or use a muzzle and supplement pasture with a compound that is high in fibre and low in starch and sugar.
  • Do not turn a horse out on lush or frosty grass.
  • Follow the rule of feeding little and often.
  • Exercise your horse regularly to prevent him from getting overweight.
  • Consider turning your pony out at night and bringing it in during the day can help as there are less fructans in the grass at night.
  • Ensure a farrier attends to their feet regularly to promote good hoof growth.
  • As soon as the horse/pony becomes slightly lame or ‘pottery’, remove it from the grass until it is completely sound.
  • Check the horse’s crest on a regular basis; if it becomes hard, remove the horse from the grass immediately until it softens.
  • Make sure you check the horse’s digital pulses daily so you will know if there is any change to it.
  • Monitor your horse’s weight on a regular basis using a weigh tape – it’s sometimes hard to notice a difference just by eye. If he is putting on weight then consider taking action to reduce his intake of food.

Lead image credit: The Blue Cross




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