One in ten horses is affected by laminitis each year. This painful condition involves damage to the hoof laminae, leading to varying degrees of lameness. [1]

Although laminitis affects the hooves, the condition is often initiated by dietary and metabolic factors. Laminitis can also result from infection with a systemic inflammatory response or excessive mechanical stresses on the hooves.

Many horses recover completely, but others have lasting damage and are not able to resume their previous level of work.

Once a horse experiences laminitis the risk of reoccurrence increases, and proper management is critical to support recovery and maintain a sound horse.

All breeds and ages of horses are susceptible to laminitis, but some horses have a higher risk due to genetic factors. There are also common lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of this condition. [1]

This article will review the top 17 risk factors for laminitis in horses and discuss how to address these risk factors and prevent laminitis in your horse.

Laminitis Overview

Approximately 600 interlocking primary laminae in the horse’s foot provide structural support and connect the coffin bone to the hoof wall. Each of the primary laminae has approximately 100 secondary laminae which are branches off the primary.

Laminae are both sensitive – originating from the deeper tissues and live tissue – and insensitive – inner branches of the hoof wall which do not have nerves or blood supply.

When laminitis occurs, the sensitive soft tissue structures become damaged and stretch, resulting in debilitating pain for the horse.

If the condition progresses to founder, the laminae eventually separate and the coffin bone loses support. The coffin bone may sink or rotate downwards and create pressure on the sole.

Healthy vs. Laminitic Horse Hoof | Mad Barn CanadaIllustration:

Some horses fail to regain soundness after laminitis and struggle with the condition as a chronic issue. In severe cases, laminitis can lead to euthanasia – approximately, 7% of equine deaths are associated with laminitis. [2]

There are four main types of laminitis that can occur:

  • Endocrinopathic laminitis – relating to metabolic causes, such as grain overload or pasture-associated laminitis
  • Sepsis-associated laminitis – occurring as a secondary effect of illness/infection and associated with a systemic inflammatory response
  • Mechanical laminitis – caused by excessive weight bearing or support limb laminitis
  • Toxicity-related laminitis – caused by exposure to toxic metals or plants

Regardless of whether laminitis is caused by mechanical, metabolic or other factors, the condition can worsen quickly. If laminitis progresses to founder, the hooves and inner structures of the lower leg may sustain irreversible changes and result in permanent lameness.

Typical Signs of Laminitis

Horses affected by laminitis commonly display physical and behavioural signs of the condition. There can also be changes in hoof quality and signs of metabolic dysfunction that indicate your horse is at risk of laminitis.

Physical and Behavioural Signs

Abnormal Stance: Affected horses avoid bearing weight on their front legs by positioning them in front of the body, stiffening (bracing) muscles of the legs and shoulders, shifting weight to the hind legs.

Objection to movement: The intense pain caused by laminitis can make horses reluctant to move or make sharp turns.

Altered gaits: Horses with laminitis may be lame in some or all legs and exhibit a shortened stride.

Shifting weight: Horses with foot pain may alternate bearing weight on their legs by lifting them up and placing them down again.