by Gail M. Staines, Ph.D.
Founder, The Senior Horse
April 12, 2021
What is laminitis?
Laminitis (sometimes referred to as founder) was once thought to be a stand-alone disease often arising after ponies, donkeys, or horses ate rich green grass, particularly in springtime af
ter a long winter eating hay. Advances in equine science have discovered that laminitis is a disease related to diet (particularly found in overweight horses) and/or endocrine afflictions that involve the horse’s system. There are two systemic endocrine disorders: 1.) equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and 2.) pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID; formerly known as Cushing’s disease).
According to Loving (2021), only 12% of cases reported by horse owners were a result of grain overload, colic, diarrhea, or a retained placenta.
Why is this a concern for senior horses?
Although a concern for all horses, it can be particularly debilitating in the older equine. Laminitis is a very painful disease where the laminae (soft tissue that plays an important role within the hoof by keeping the coffin bone where it belongs) becomes inflamed. Inflammation weakens the laminae and may eventually be so damaged that it is unable to support the coffin bone. In very serious cases, the coffin bone will ‘fall’ through the sole of the hoof.
What are the clinical signs of laminitis?
Horse owners need to be on the look out for possible signs of laminitis as this disease may not be immediately apparent until it has progressed. One of the first two signs to look for are 1.) rings on the hoof that are wider at the heel and 2.) the white line of the hoof has widened.
Other signs include:
Not wanting to pick up feet or walk (especially the front feet).
Being stiff, walking with a stiff gait, and possible lameness.
Shifting weight from front foot to front foot when standing.
A high digital pulse (check the back of the pastern or fetlock).
Very warm, if not excessive, heat in the feet.
Difficulty or inability to turn in a tight circle.
How is a horse diagnosed with laminitis?
There are several types of laminitis. Diagnosis is required by a veterinarian. The horse may present with some or all of the above signs that can last, on average, from 24 to 72 hours.
Common types of laminitis include: insulin resistant, obesity dependent, nutritionally-induced, as a result of PPID, and/or several cases of colic. Laminitis can be challenging to diagnose in some instances especially if it a result of or interconnected with other diseases or medical issues.
Is laminitis curable?
Laminitis can be managed by various treatments, but is not 100% curable. Treatment may include: pain relief management, therapeutic trimming and possible shoeing to support the hoof, restricted exercise, and a controlled diet. Non-severe cases may last from 6 to 12 weeks; such horses may recover fully. Other horses often develop chronic laminitis, requiring long-term management.
What happens if laminitis is not treated?
If laminitis is left untreated, the horse can be in such pain, unable to move or put weight on its’ hooves, that euthanasia may be the only alternative.
Where can I locate more information about laminitis?
You can locate additional information about laminitis at The Laminitis Site, https://www.thelaminitissite.org/new-researchresearch-by-date.html
Loving, N. (2021). Equine endocrinopathic laminitis explained. The Horse, https://thehorse.com/186310/equine-endocrinopathic-laminitis-explained/
Patterson-Kane, J., Karikoski, N., and McGowan, C. (2018). Paradigm shifts in understanding equine laminitis. The Veterinary Journal, 231: 33-40.
Ward, A. (2020). Horse laminitis: Causes, clinical signs, management and prevention. Hygain. https://hygain.com.au/blogs/library/horse-laminitis
DISCLAIMER : This care sheet is for informational purposes only. It is not veterinary advice. Contact your veterinarian for accurate diagnosis and treatment.