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Spotting the signs and what to do about it

  • What is Laminitis?
  • What causes laminitis?
  • Signs of laminitis
  • What to do if your horse is showing signs of laminitis?
  • Need more information?

What is Laminitis?

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis is an inflammatory condition of the hooves which causes pain and lameness in horses and ponies. Did you know that laminitis can be ongoing within the hoof without lameness being present? By noticing the condition in its early stages gives both owners and vets the chance to adjust management methods or treat the underlying disease before painful symptoms materialise.

What causes laminitis?

What causes laminitis?

Endocrine laminitis

This is by far the most common form of laminitis. 90% of laminitis cases have an underlying endocrine (hormonal) cause.1 There are two hormonal diseases commonly associated with laminitis: Equine Cushing’s disease (also known as PPID) and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). It is important to identify and manage these diseases promptly in order to minimise the risk of laminitis episodes.

Toxaemic laminitis

This is where a septic condition, such as an infection of the uterus, causes laminitis

Load-bearing laminitis

This is where severe lameness in one limb and the subsequent increase in weight-bearing by the opposite limb results in laminitis in that opposite weight-bearing limb. One of the most important discoveries has been the realisation that 90% of laminitis cases have an underlying hormonal cause, and that high blood insulin levels cause laminitis.

Signs of laminitis

How to spot the signs of laminitis

Spotting the signs of laminitis is not always simple: recent research shows that many owners do not recognise the early and moderate signs of this condition.2 Severe laminitis is an emergency, and ongoing ‘mild’ disease can result in painful long-term consequences. Prompt attention and treatment as soon as the signs of laminitis are recognised will not only relieve the pain but also reduce the risk of long-term damage.

The signs can be grouped into three categories:

Pre-clinical: Where there are no signs of pain but hoof changes can be seen these include:

  • Cracks in the hoof wall
  • A change to the shape of the hoof
  • A white line around the hoof

Mild: Where mild signs of hoof discomfort are present, these include:

  • The above hoof changes
  • Reluctance to move around, especially on hard surfaces
  • Awkward-looking movements
  • Sore after a farrier visit

Severe: Where severe signs of hoof pain are present, including:

  • Both pre-clinical and mild symptoms
  • Lameness
  • Ongoing recumbency e.g. leaning or reclining
  • Lying down more than usual
  • Shifting weight from leg to leg

If you would like to check whether your horse could be showing signs of laminitis, you can download an assessment checklist from Caring About Cushings' website.

What to do if your horse is showing signs of laminitis?

What to do if your horse is showing signs of laminitis?

1. Seek veterinary advice

2. Until the vet arrives:

  • Remove your horse from pasture if you are able to
  • Provide deep bedding
  • Ensure they can reach food (soaked hay) and water easily

3. When the vet arrives they will examine your horse. If they confirm a diagnosis of laminitis they will treat the painful symptoms and make recommendations with regard to trimming, farriery, and management. They may also recommend testing for underlying hormonal conditions: identification and treatment of these may reduce the risk of future painful attacks and permanent damage.

Need more information?

Need more information?

If you have any further questions about laminitis or any aspect of your horse’s welfare, please get in touch.

1. Karikoski NJ et al. (2011) The prevalence of endocrinopathic laminitis among horses presented for laminitis at a first-opinion/referral equine hospital Domestic Animal Endocrinology 41. 111-117.
2. Pollard  et al (2017) Assessment of horse owners ability to recognise equine laminitis: A cross‐sectional study of 93 veterinary diagnosed cases in Great Britain. Equine Vet J Vol49, Iss 6. 759-766

Practice information

Penmellyn Equine Vets

  • Mon
    8:30am - 5:00pm
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  • Sat
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Station Road St Columb Major Cornwall TR9 6BX
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