Laminitis – is your horse at risk?

Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae, the “velcro-like” connections between the pedal bone and the hoof, causing pain and lameness.  Often when inflamed, the laminae connections start to separate and breakdown, allowing the pedal/coffin bone and hoof capsule to rotate or sink in relation to each other. This rotation and/or sinking is called founder or chronic laminitis.

Degrees of pedal bone rotation

Signs of laminitis:

  • shifting weight from foot to foot
  • bounding digital pulses
  • stiff and short gait with weight on heels
  • lying down more than usual
  • preference for soft ground
  • reluctance to turn
  • signs of pain (increased respiratory rate and pulse, sweating).

    Classic laminitic stance

You are unlikely to see all these signs and they can vary in severity – call your vet if your horse shows any of these symptoms.


Successful treatment for laminitis is dependent on:

1.  Recognising that the horse has laminitis.

2.  Identifying and removing/treating the cause.

3.  Supporting and realigning the feet as quickly as possible.

With a positive diagnosis, appropriate treatment and management, many horses return to their former use and live healthy long lives. A restricted diet and good foot care to fully realign any damage and then keep the foot correctly balanced is key.

However, laminitis can be a severely debilitating disease and if not recognised quickly, treatment is often long and difficult with frequent recurrences after the first bout.

Much of the risk of laminitis developing relates to a metabolic abnormality known as insulin resistance. This is when the body is unable to deal with a sugary diet, and so the horse experiences large swings in blood glucose and insulin concentrations. High insulin and glucose cause change and damage to the blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of laminitis.

Some horses have insulin resistance due to Cushing’s disease, while others may be suffering from Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). Most ponies and native breeds will have EMS – your typical good-doers, and may be obese or with regional fat deposits on crest, above eyes and around sheath. Many horses have been developing Cushing’s disease for a long time before classical clinical signs are seen, such as a curly long coat or excessive drinking and urination. Your vet can test for these underlying causes by taking blood tests.

Once we recognise those horses at risk of laminitis, we can try to do something about it. Prevention is much better than cure! Diet is key – more about this in my next post.

Abnormal fat deposits indicating insulin resistance

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