What is Laminitis?

Simply put, Laminitis is the inflammation of the Laminae.

It can affect any horse, pony or donkey and approximately 1 in 10 equines develop an episode of Laminitis every year.

Prevention is better than cure – No foot, no horse!

Maintaining a good blood supply to the laminae cannot be over stated as it keeps it healthy. Improving circulation can be easily achieved by using magnetic leg wraps, magnetic horse boots or magnetic leg bands. Magnets are thought to help relax and widen blood vessels, boost circulation, aid healing and reduce pain.

There are two layers of interlocking Laminae, one is attached to the wall of the hoof and the other is attached to the pedal bone. If the laminae become inflamed the two layers begin to separate and become unstable due to lack of support  (a bit like two sides of velcro being pulled apart). Eventually the pedal bone starts to rotate and move downwards. This is excruciatingly painful for the horse and in the most serious cases may eventually perforate the sole of the hoof.

What causes Laminitis?

Most people probably think of little fat ponies with a cresty neck that have eaten too much grass, but there are several causes.

By far the most common cause of Laminitis is metabolic. There are 2 types, and both are the result of an abnormal control over carbohydrate metabolism which produce an excessive response to insulin; starch in grain and sugars in grass.

1. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) 

Could be likened to the equine equivalent of diabetes in people and many of our native breeds are genetically predisposed to it.

There are 3 factors which characterise EMS - 1.Obesity. 2. Insulin resistance. 3. Laminitis.

Any horse, pony or donkey susceptible to EMS that consumes large amounts of sugars will have high levels of insulin which in turn will result in laminitis.

2. Cushings Disease (PPID. Pituitary Pars Intermedia)

This is a disease of ageing. Part of the pituitary gland starts to secrete excessive amounts of hormones. Some of the hormones affect the carbohydrate metabolism which results in high insulin levels which in turn can cause laminitis.

Other conditions that can affect the laminae and cause Laminitis include:

  • Inflammation caused by too many toxins being absorbed into the blood stream. Consuming a large amount of starch rich grain all in one go leads to it not being fully digested and therefore builds up in the hind gut where it starts to ferment and release toxins.
  • A damaged gut after a serious attack of Colic.
  • Mare retaining her placenta after foaling which causes a toxic/septic build up.
  • Injury/Overload. When a horse injures a leg it will bear all of it's weight on the opposite leg to ease the discomfort. The extra stress and strain placed on the good leg can result in it becoming laminitic.
  • Stress/Sudden changes from travel, management or the loss of a companion.

What are the signs of Laminitis?

The most typical signs are listed below. If you suspect that your horse or pony has Laminitis you should act quickly, treat it as an emergency and call your Vet immediately. Prompt treatment can make all the difference.  

  • Shifting of weight when standing
  • Leaning back, trying to keep the weight off the toes and towards the heels
  • A ‘pottery’ gait (taking shorter steps than usual when walking
  • Reluctance to move, especially when turning
  • Dull
  • A strong digital pulse (either side of the fetlock)
  • Heat in the hooves
  • Lying down more than usual

After diagnosis, treatment will usually involve both the Vet and Farrier who will also advise you on how to manage your Laminitic friend.