Don't Be Lame: What Every Horse Owner Needs To Know About Laminitis


Typically, a horse represents a significant investment in care costs and time spent training and grooming. Whether your horse is for performance or just for a family pet to ride and enjoy, you want to make sure you notice health problems early, because illnesses and infections can end up threatening the life of your horse.

One of the most common diseases that can go from treatable to very serious is laminitis. With some basic knowledge about hoof anatomy, causes, and prevention, you can protect your horse from the pain of an illness that can lead to your horse becoming totally lame. 

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis occurs when the soft tissue at the core the horse's hoof, known as the laminae, becomes inflamed. Without proper blood flow, usually due to stress or swelling, the cells of the laminae begin to die. The laminae supports the bones of the horses leg, and when it is inflamed, walking becomes painful. 

If the laminae deteriorates further, the pedal bone of the horses leg will actually slide further into the hoof, protruding from the bottom. Generally, when laminitis has progressed this far, curing it is nearly impossible. 

What Causes Laminitis?

There are many reasons why your horse can develop laminitis. These include:

Increased Stress

Your horse spreads its weight evenly on all four legs. When one leg is injured, the other three take the strain of weight bearing. This kind of stress is can lead to laminitis. Similar stress occurs when you train your horse too hard too soon or when your horse experiences a drastic difference in environment, such as running on asphalt instead of grass. 

Injury

The exterior portion of the hoof is designed to protect the more vulnerable laminae, so injuries directly to the hoof are not common, but they do happen. For example, your horse can experience hoof concussion if the area is crushed or punctured. Other causes of injury include concussion from overwork.

Infection

Unfortunately, laminitis is not just a risk for horses who have been stressed or injured. Infections in other parts of the body can also affect the laminae. For example, severe bacterial colic or even toxemia after foaling can cause the infection to spread through the bloodstream and infect the laminae. This type of laminitis is more acute, and symptoms occur rapidly. 

Obesity

Sadly, one of the most preventable causes of laminitis is also the most common. Horses that have a plentiful diet and little exercise become overweight. The balance of weight on each hoof is delicate, and increased weight can upset the laminae with prolonged stress. 

Laminitis is more common in mares carrying foals, especially if they are not properly fed and exercised. It is also more common in older horses that are "put out to pasture" with fewer exercises and constant grazing. 

High Blood Sugar

It should be noted that poor diet can also contribute to laminitis. Horses who are fed too much sugar and starch can experience an upset in the digestive bacteria in the stomach. The acid from the sugary diet can kill gut bacteria, and the resulting toxins enter the bloodstream in and attack the laminae.

What Can You Do To Prevent Laminitis?

Proper equine care is the best safeguard against laminitis. Horse owners should take care to:

  • Provide just the right amount of food. Your horse's food needs will vary based on age, sex, and activity level. Talk to your vet if you are not sure how much food to give your horse. 
  • Exercise their horse regularly. If your horse gets plenty of exercise on varied terrain, the chances of experiencing hoof stress decrease. If your horse has been inactive for a long period of time, ask your vet for a graduated training schedule to avoid doing too much too soon. 
  • Provide proper hoof care. A farrier should trim your horse's hoof regularly. Poor hoof condition increases the risk of laminitis because it is easier for the foot to become stressed. 
  • Limit grass grazing, especially in areas with high concentrations of sweet plants like clover. Cordon off grazing areas to limit access to sweet grasses. 

For more information on treating and preventing laminitis in your horse, contact a vet, like one from Metzger Animal Hospital, near you.

About Me

The Life Of Veterinarians

Individuals who own pets or livestock often need the services of a veterinarian. Some vet clinics only treat cats, dogs and small animals. Other clinics will also treat large animals including cattle and horses. People who own exotic animals or reptiles can visit a veterinarian to treat their unique pet. My name is Ramona Geffen and I grew up on a farm where my family owned livestock and various pets, so it was common for my family to frequently seek the services of a veterinarian. As a child, I liked to watch the veterinarians at work and I was amazed at the knowledge they had about animals. I've always been in awe of veterinarians and I've took it upon myself to learn about all they do for animals. I decided to write a blog about veterinarians to share what I've learned and I hope that you enjoy my articles.

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