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  • Writer's pictureBeth Pudwell

Dealing With Laminitis

When you mention laminitis to most people, the picture that comes to mind is a fat little pony with a big cresty neck. And that is certainly a common patient. But there are so many different types of horses and ponies that can develop laminitis, that it is worth every owner learning about the risk factors, prevention and management of the disease, so that they may be prepared and aware.

So, what is Laminitis?

Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae of the horse’s foot. The laminae is the tissue structures

located between the hoof wall and the coffin bone, which attach the coffin bone to the hoof wall, and hold the coffin bone in place. Laminitis occurs when the

blood flow to the laminae is disrupted, which causes the laminae to become inflamed, causing the laminae to weaken and become unable to hold the coffin bone. If left unchecked, the coffin bone can rotate to the point where it can protrude through the sole of the horse’s hoof.

What causes Laminitis?

Knowing what causes laminitis, or what situations may predispose a horse to laminitis, can make it easier to lower the risk of your horse contracting laminitis.

The two most common causes are obesity and diet. Just like in humans, an overweight horse or pony is at a much higher risk of developing health problems. Diets that are high in grain, or uncontrolled access to grass can predispose a horse to laminitis. Some other causes include EMS, Cushings, concussion, hormonal changes, and cold weather.

Warning signs

Knowing the warning signs could be the difference between mild discomfort and a crippled horse.

· ‘Thumping’ digital pulse

· Abnormal movement – less weight bearing usually on front feet

· Shifting weight when standing still – alternately relieving the pressure on each front foot

· Leaning back – shifting the weight more onto the back feet

· Heat in hoof wall and around coronet band

If you think your horse may have laminitis, call your vet immediately

First Aid & ongoing treatment

The first step in treating laminitis should be reducing the inflammation. The most effective method is to immerse the feet in an ice water slurry.

Once the vet has arrived, they will diagnose the laminitis and prescribe a painkiller and anti-inflammatory as appropriate.

Your vet will discuss the best options for ongoing treatment, but there are several things you can do to assist with recovery:

Trimming; contact your farrier and explain the vets diagnosis. In most cases they will look at trimming the foot with a shorter toe and leaving the heels a little longer to reduce the stress on the coffin bone. They may also suggest a hoof pack to support the sole.

Bedding; Bringing the horse into a box or yard where it can lie down and doesn’t need to move much between water and feed can help it stay a lot more comfortable. Deep sand is ideal, as it provides a more even pressure across the bottom of the hoof.

Feeding: Avoid feeding sweet or starchy treats and remove grain and processed feed from the horses diet. Remove access to grass but provide constant access to low sugar grass hay. Alternatively, soaking cereal hay for 30 minutes before feeding can lower the sugar content. Feeding a diet high in fibre but low in sugar, such as unmollassed sugarbeet pulp, fortified with a vitamin and mineral premix is ideal.


One of the most effective ways of preventing your horse developing laminitis is by monitoring his diet. Avoiding grain-based feeds and controlling access to grass, particularly lush or growing grass is key. Grass should be limited to 1 – 3 hours, ideally late at night or very early in the morning, when the sugar content is at it lowest. Keep the horses diet as simple as possible, providing at least 1% of the horses body weight as roughage. Un-molassed sugarbeet pulp, soymeal or chaff should have a premix such as Endeavon’s Vitafit Horse and Pony added to ensure adequate levels of important vitamins and minerals.


Laminitis can be a debilitating disease for a horse, but with correct management, the risks can be greatly reduced. For those that have already been affected, proper steps can be taken to help ensure the best outlook and long-term soundness of the horse into the future. Remember that if you are ever in doubt, your vet should be your first call.


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