If your horse is showing signs of acute laminitis, they require emergency veterinary attention and prompt treatment.

Laminitis affects the soft structures of the equine hoof, known as the laminae, and can cause significant pain and lameness.

An episode of laminitis can result in permanent damage to the internal structures of the hooves if left untreated. [1] Although the condition can be life-threatening, many horses recover with proper management.

At the first sign of a laminitis attack, there are steps you can take to slow the progression of laminar damage and improve your horse’s prognosis. This includes immediately calling your veterinarian, removing your horse from pasture and grains. In some cases, standing the horse in an ice water bath is helpful.

This article will discuss emergency steps to take if you think your horse is experiencing a flare-up of acute laminitis. Once the laminitic emergency has been managed, follow these steps to support your horse’s recovery.

Laminitis Emergency Treatment Protocol

Laminitis should be treated promptly to minimize damage to the laminae.

Step 1) Assess Your Horse for Signs of Laminitis

Observe your horse’s ability to move. Determine if he is willing and able to move at the walk and turn his body. Don’t force the horse to move if he is not able to as this could cause additional damage to the laminae and increase pain.

Look for signs of pain. Horses with laminitis may be unwilling to stand on hard surfaces. They may also shift their weight frequently and lift their feet alternately. They are unwilling to lift their feet. A glazed facial expression, irritability, and unwillingness to be touched can be signs of pain. They may spend more time than normal lying down.

Check your horse’s digital pulse. An unusually strong pulse in your horse’s digital artery can be caused by obstruction to blood flow through the hoof and could potentially indicate the presence of laminitis. Use your fingers to check the pulse of the paired digital arteries which run over the sesamoid bones in the back of the fetlock and in the upper and mid pastern.

 

Healthy vs Laminitic Horse HoofIllustration:

 

Step 2) Contact Your Veterinarian

Laminitis is a veterinary emergency that requires prompt treatment. A veterinarian can determine the extent of damage that has occurred in the hooves and what treatment is required.

A veterinarian will perform a medical assessment including a lameness exam to diagnose your horse and determine a treatment plan for laminitis. Be prepared to provide your veterinarian with your horse’s medical history and current diet.

Radiographs may need to be taken to detect if there have been any changes to the coffin bone. These images can also be very helpful for the farrier to determine how the horse should be trimmed to properly balance the foot and if therapeutic shoeing would be beneficial.

Step 3) Move Your Horse to a Small Area with Soft Bedding

Horses with laminitis should move as little as possible until they are assessed by a veterinarian. Until the extent of the damage to the laminae is known, restrict unnecessary movement to avoid causing further injury.

If your horse shows signs of laminitis while at pasture and is unable to move, it may be necessary to use a trailer to transport him from the field to the stable. Do not leave the horse on pasture under any circumstances.

If moving the horse from one area to another is necessary, try to stay on soft ground or create a path using a soft footing such as sand or sawdust. Materials such as rubber mats or carpets can also be used to make a pathway for the horse to walk on. If necessary, the veterinarian can use nerve blocks to allow the application of Styrofoam pads or boots with pads.

A stall or small area with soft bedding is ideal for your horse to stand on. Beddings such as shavings, sawdust, or soaked wood pellets are helpful for supporting the hooves and maximizing weight distribution.

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