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Laminitis

Laminitis is a very serious condition that requires prompt treatment from your vet. If you suspect your horse has laminitis, call your vet immediately to give your horse the best chance of recovery.

Laminitis is a very serious and painful inflammatory condition of the tissues (called laminae) that bond the hoof wall to the coffin bone (pedal bone) in the hoof.

If laminitis is not treated promptly, the coffin bone can tear away from the hoof wall and drop down or rotate within the hoof. In some cases, the bone may even penetrate through the sole. Laminitis can be fatal in severe cases.

Laminitis can affect one or more feet, but the front feet are more commonly affected. As a result of pain, the horse may take up a “sawhorse” stance, with the front feet placed forward and the hind feet well under the body. Other horses may lie down to take pressure off their feet. Lameness may be severe and the horse may be reluctant to move.

Causes of laminitis

There is still much to understand about what why laminitis occurs, but current thinking is that the levels of certain enzymes normally found in the hoof become unbalanced and begin to destroy the connection between the hoof wall and the coffin bone. What causes the enzymes to go out of control is an active area of research but some triggers include:

  • inflammation of the colon (colitis)
  • inflammation of the uterus (metritis)
  • failure to pass the afterbirth when a foal is born (retained placenta)
  • over-feeding with either pasture or grain
  • obesity
  • over-working unshod horses on hard ground..

How is laminitis treated?

Early recognition and treatment of laminitis is very important to minimise long term damage. Depending on the severity, your vet may take x-rays to determine the degree of rotation of the coffin bone. Your vet will need to treat any underlying triggers that may be causing the laminitis. Treatment will also focus on relieving pain and relieving stress and tension in the hoof to prevent or minimise rotation or dropping of the coffin bone.

Generally, treatment for laminitis includes:

  • anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and inflammation
  • confinement to a stall with thick, deep bedding (sand, wood shavings) to help support the foot
  • confinement to a small paddock if stall confinement is not possible (exercise during the early stages of the disease may potentially worsen the outcome)
  • therapeutic trimming of the hoof by your vet or farrier and the use of a wedge to support the coffin bone.

Preventing laminitis

There are some simple steps you can take to help prevent laminitis:

  • Ensure your horse receives regular hoof care from your farrier.
  • Maintain your horse's weight at a healthy level.
  • Ensure your horse is fed a balanced diet appropriate for their type, age and use.

Call your vet quickly if you suspect laminitis or if your horse is unwell.