Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae in the horses’ hoof (the soft tissues that attach the pedal bone to the hoof wall). Laminitis can cause extreme pain and instability of the pedal bone. Horses that have suffered from laminitis become susceptible to it in the future. Laminitis cannot be cured as such and needs careful management and prevention methods. Some horses are more predisposed to getting laminitis, such as natives and overweight horses, however, any horse may develop laminitis.
There are a variety of causes, but one main cause is nutritional laminitis. This is often caused by starch overload. The horse is a hindgut fermenter (fibre is fermented in the hindgut), and a diet high in starch may “overload” the system. The horse is not able to digest the starch before it reaches the hindgut, and the bacteria in the hindgut which are responsible for fermentation, are killed by this starch. The dead bacteria release a toxin known as endotoxin. These endotoxins travel through the bloodstream to the laminae, causing inflammation and in turn laminitis.
- Acute laminitis - the horse will show a reluctance to walk and will be visibly lame, especially when walking on a hard surface.
- Unwilling to put weight on front feet - when standing the horse may lean back to avoid putting weight on its front feet..
- Strong digital pulse - the horse will have an increased digital pulse in their foot.
- Abnormal heat on the hoof – the horse’s hoof wall or coronet band will be warm to the touch
- If you suspect your horse has laminitis, seek veterinary attention immediately.
- Restrict access to rich grass, particularly during the wet spring months. We recommend implementing a track system if possible, if this is not possible grazing muzzles are a good alternative.
- Encourage healthy weight loss if your horse is overweight.
- Monitor your horse’s weight closely using a weigh tape.
- Feed a high fibre, low sugar and starch diet.