Be aware of the risk factors for laminitis

Horses in a field.
Horses in a field.

Laminitis is a very serious disease that affects horses and can be life-threatening.

Even though it has been recognised for a long time, we still do not fully understand this condition.

Every horse owner should be aware that ingestion of lush pasture can trigger laminitis.

Laminitis is an inflammation of the lamina that is responsible for the attachment of the coffin bone to the hoof. When this bond is destroyed, the bone will become displaced and can even prolapse through the hoof sole.

There are several causes of laminitis — pasture associated laminitis, toxaemia/sepsis due to underlying disease, supporting limb laminitis, corticosteroid therapy, and endocrinopathies.

The first cause is the most common in the UK, but with proper knowledge it can, in many cases, be prevented.

Every horse owner should be aware that ingestion of lush pasture can trigger laminitis. The grass, especially in spring, has a high level of sugars called fructans that have been proven to be directly connected with the pathophysiology of this disease. Grass that is stressed by overnight frost or overgrazing will contain high levels of fructans.

Many horses are liveried on pastures that were used for cattle. These have usually been fertilised with grass species that are not appropriate for horses. Also poor pastures should be avoided.

The most prone to laminitis will be horses that suffer from underlying endocrinopathies — Cushing’s disease and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Every horse that suffers from laminitis should be tested for those.

Obesity that accompanies these abnormalities is a major risk factor. If your horse is overweight you should contact your vet or an equine nutritionist to make a plan for weight loss.

Signs of laminitis are pottery gait, hot hooves, elevated digital pulses in affected limbs, reluctance to move, shifting weight from left to right, and standing with forelimbs placed far forward.

Every case should be treated as an emergency so contact your vet as soon as possible. Treatment might include oral medication, radiographs, dietary management, therapeutic farriery and sometimes surgery. A horse with laminitis should be put in a stall with very deep bedding, ideally 18 ins, and allowed to rest for a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, not all cases can be treated successfully and that is why it is crucial to do everything to eliminate the risk factors.

By Dominika Skawinska, Vet