Equine laminitis is a painful condition affecting the horse’s hooves. Cases of laminitis range in severity from mild foot tenderness to chronic founder, potentially impeding the horse’s ability to walk and decreasing quality of life.

Laminitis is the bane of any horse owner’s existence. Horses affected by laminitis suffer excruciating pain as the soft hoof structures, known as laminae, become unstable.

While laminitis does not usually kill horses, per se, owners may make the decision to euthanize if the prognosis is poor or treatments do not work. 7% of equine deaths are associated with laminitis in some way. [1]

Fortunately, most horses will recover from laminitis to some degree, but it can take time. Once recovered, the horse could be more short-strided than before laminitis struck.

Laminitis is always an equine emergency. Call your vet immediately if your horse develops symptoms of this potentially life-altering condition. Prompt treatment can often prevent further damage when caught at an early stage.

The most important thing in any case of laminitis is to identify and remove the cause.

What is Equine Laminitis?

The term laminitis literally means inflammation of the hoof’s laminaebut not all types of laminitis actually have inflammation as a key feature. The laminae within the hoof keeps the coffin bone adhered to the hoof wall.

The coffin bone, also known as the distal phalanx or third phalanx, is totally encased within the hoof and provides attachment for the deep digital flexor tendon.

In laminitis, the laminae elongate and weaken then may start separating. Should separation occur, the coffin bone loses support and rotates side-to-side and/or downward. A rotated coffin bone puts focal pressure on the sole and its blood supply and nerves.

In the worst-case scenario, the coffin bone loses all laminar support. The coffin bone can sink and even rupture out the sole of the hoof. Recovery from penetration is possible but takes a prolonged course of intensive nursing.

 

Healthy vs. Laminitic Horse Hoof | Mad Barn CanadaIllustration:

Although laminitis is a disease of the hoof, the events leading to laminar breakdown have their origins in the animal’s immune system, gastrointestinal tract, or endocrine system.

Once a horse develops laminitis, recurrence is possible. Careful management is key to preventing recurrence and keeping the horse as sound as possible.

Some horses will recover fully from a bout of laminitis, and others may prove serviceably sound for less demanding work. There are horses who never regain soundness after laminitis. In some equines, it becomes a chronic issue.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Laminitis

Laminitis is a painful condition. If your horse exhibits reluctance to walk, is laying down frequently, “walks on eggshells”, or acts like they’re trying to shift weight off their forehand standing or turning tightly, you should suspect laminitis.

Although all four hooves can be affected, laminitis is more obvious in the front feet because they bear more of the horse’s weight.

Signs of laminitis include:

  • Heat in the hooves
  • Increased digital pulse
  • Sensitivity to hoof testers, particularly over the toe
  • Reluctance to move
  • Laying down more frequently
  • “Rocking back” or shifting weight off the forehand
  • Tentative walking on concrete or hard surfaces, particularly when turning tightly
  • Coronary softening
  • Rigid head carriage (either high or low) and loss of the normal swing to the back at the walk
  • Muscular tension in the shoulders, back and hindquarters

In the most severe cases, a bloody exudate may seep from the coronary band. The prognosis for equines who reach this point is poor.

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