What is Laminitis?
Laminitis is one of the most common causes of lameness in horses and ponies. It is defined as ‘Inflammation of sensitive layers of tissue (laminae) inside the hoof’. Laminitis can vary in severity from mild to severe.
What causes Laminitis?
There is currently lots of on-going research into the cause of laminitis, Current hypothesis include:
- ECM degradation
- Metabolic disease (e.g. Cushing’s)
- Obesity is thought to contribute.
- Vascular dysfunction
Laminitis can be broken down into 3 stages
- Developmental stage (only 72 hours)
- Acute/Sub-Acute phase
- Chronic phase
How can I tell if my horse has laminitis?
It can be very hard to differentiate laminitis from other problems in the foot as there are very few unique clinical signs of laminitis. Only X-rays or advanced imaging can give a definite diagnosis. Non-specific signs of laminitis include:
- Horse shifting weight from one leg to another or, if all feet are affected they may be leaning back, taking the weight off the front of the hoof.
- Hoof walls warm to the touch
- Difficulty walking
- It can arise in association with diseases characterised by sepsis and systemic inflammation such as GI disease, pneumonia and septic metritis; endocrine disorders including PPID (Equine Cushings)
- Studies have shown that there is an association between occurrence of laminitis and being a pony rather than a horse, the spring and summer months, being female, increasing age, obesity, recent increase in body weight, recent new access to grass, increasing time since worming and insulin resistance
Laminitis is a medical emergency and so should be treated ASAP. Once clinical signs are apparent (i.e. difficulty walking) irreversible changes have already occurred in the foot. Medical therapy involves pain relief (analgesia) and hoof support.
If Cushings (PPID) is suspected testing should be done to rule this out as a potential cause of the laminitis.
Management changes are equally as important as the medical therapy and include; box rest (especially in spring) and restricted grazing.
Prognosis depends on clinical signs and without x-rays of the foot it can be difficult to assess prognosis with any certainty. Broadly speaking, by taking an x-ray we can identify if there is rotation or sinking of the pedal bone (P3). Rotation offers a better prognosis than sinking. In some cases palpation of the coronary band can determine if there is a ‘depression’, which is indicative of sinking of the pedal bone.
How to minimise the risk of laminitis
Prevention if far better than cure!
- Restrict grazing; especially in the spring (high NSC)
- Feed a low carbohydrate, high fibre diet
- Do not allow your pony or horse to get too fat
- Use a good farrier and trim feet regularly