Laminitis is an extremely painful cause of lameness in horses. Laminitis occurs due to inflammation and interruption of blood flow to the sensitive and insensitive laminae of the foot. The laminae are what connects the hoof wall to the coffin bone in the foot of the horse. Although laminitis occurs in the feet, there is often a problem elsewhere in the horse’s body that leads to the laminitic event. The exact mechanism of how and why laminitis occurs is not completely clear, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as signs are noticed.
Some of the first signs you notice with acute laminitis are a change in your horse’s posture and movement, most commonly a shifting lameness. A common stance for an affected horse is standing with its legs out in front of the body with weight on the heels. Some other signs are increased digital pulses, heat in the feet, and a reluctance to walk. Acute episodes are medical emergencies and you should minimise movement of your horse while waiting for the veterinarian. If possible, have your horse in a deeply bedded stall with access to hay and water.
Chronic cases of laminitis have similar clinical signs with visible changes to the hoof wall. The sole may drop and have a flat foot appearance, rings appear in the hoof wall, they can develop a bruised sole, a widened white line (seedy toe) or dished hooves. In severe cases the horse’s foot can prolapse through the sole necessitating euthanasia.
You should discuss medical therapies, management changes, and therapeutic shoeing with your veterinarian and farrier, as regular check-ups are required. If you suspect laminitis, consider it a medical emergency and contact your veterinarian.
Prevention is better than treatment! Risk factors for the development of laminitis include obesity, trauma, colic, and endocrine (hormone) disorders. Discuss your horse with your veterinarian to identify any risk factors and implement any necessary management changes.
column by DR. KATIE HENNESSY
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.