Over a million horses suffer from laminitis annually in the United States alone. It can be painful to see your cherished horse whining in pain.

This article discusses things to look out for when checking a horse for laminitis. These are the primary signs and symptoms of the disease. You will also learn about some preventive measures you can take to protect your horse against contracting the ailment.

If your horse is already suffering from laminitis, there are effective ways to control the damage the disease may cause. The article also gives practical management and treatment tips. These can help you to effectively manage the problem.

What Is Laminitis?

Laminitis is the inflammation of the soft tissue structures in a horse’s hooves. Otherwise known as laminae, the tissues connect the hoof wall to the pedal bone or coffin of the foot. The laminae inflammation may cause the diseased horse extreme pain. Its coffin bone will no longer be stable. In some extreme cases, it may trigger the separation of the pedal bone from the hoof wall. /this makes movement painful and almost impossible.

Laminitis can cripple the horse if not properly and swiftly attended to. It is quite unfortunate that once a horse has a history of laminitis attack, there is an increased chance of future recurrence. It is also noteworthy that laminitis is an incurable disease, although it can be managed. This underscores the importance of protecting your horse from the inflammation. Prevention they say is better than cure. This is absolutely true in the case of equine laminitis.

How do you know when your horse is actually down with laminitis?

Symptoms Of Laminitis

If you see your horse limping around, you should look for some other signs that are associated with laminitis. Some of these are:

  • The horse will tend to lie down more frequently than before.
  • Check the forelimbs. Although it may affect other feet, these are the areas that are more affected than others.
  • Severe pain in the forelimb that makes it difficult to pick it up.
  • The coronary band and hoof wall will feel warm when touched.
  • Rapid and strong digital pulses. You can find the pulses at the back of the horse’s fetlock.
  • The horse moves reluctantly.
  • Check the affected hooves for laminitis “rings.” They are proof of the horse’s previous episode(s) of the ailment.
  • The hoof wall changes in shape. It has a slipper or dish shape.
  • Painful bruises in the soles.
  • Thick neck.
  • Dished hooves resulting from hoof growth at different rates.
  • Seedy toe or widened white line. This is associated with blood pockets (seromas) or abscesses. Sometimes, the horse may experience both conditions.
  • It will feel uncomfortable when standing, shifting lameness from one foot to another.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the symptoms of laminitis. But they are common symptoms that show that a horse is suffering from this inflammation. When you notice these signs in your horse, get it treated for laminitis.

What Are The Causes Of Laminitis?

Several factors may trigger laminitis. The following are some common causes:

1. High sugars and starch consumption

Your horse will have an increased likelihood of contracting laminitis if their diet consists of too much starch and sugars. These are also known as soluble carbohydrates. They are harmful to horses and should be consumed in moderation.

Such diets overload the digestive system, making digestion pretty difficult for the horse. As a result, the system will push the undigested starch and sugar to the hindgut. Here, bacteria will work on the undigested material. They will break the undigested starch and sugars down. This increases the hindgut’s acidity. The increased acidity will kill the bacteria that support fiber digestion.

The bacteria will release some toxins into the animal’s gut. This passes through the gut wall into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the toxins disrupt blood flow, causing laminitis.

2. Severe Infection

If your horse has once suffered a severe infection, it is at the risk of becoming laministic. Some infections can trigger the disease. They include severe colic attack, placenta retention after foaling, or prolonged diarrhea

3. Stress

Have you embarked on frequent travels with your horse recently? If so, the stress may trigger inflammation of the laminae. A sudden and dramatic change in environment may cause this health problem as it tries to adapt. Mares are also at risk. Foaling adds extra physical stress that may prepare the ground for laminae damage.

4. Obesity

Some horse owners are fond of overfeeding their horses. Although the gesture seems cute, it actually is harmful.

When a horse consumes more calories than it burns off, it gradually gains extra weight. If this trend is not checked, the horse may become obese. This health condition puts more pressure on the horse. The vital organs, especially the limbs, will feel the impact of the increased weight. Gradually, this will have a damaging effect on the feet, leading to laminitis.

If you are breeding native horses, know that they can survive on  average pasture. If you allow them to graze a fertilized pasture, they will likely become overweight.

5. Cushing’s Disease

A horse develops Cushing’s disease if its pituitary gland doesn’t function properly. This condition can increase the horse’s appetite and thirst. If the horse continues eating to meet its appetite, it is likely going to gain weight excessively.

Check the coat as well. A horse suffering from Cushing’s disease will have a curly coat. Sweating and weight loss are other symptoms you should look out for. Finally, horses with a history of Cushing’s disease are prone to Laminitis.

Other causes include:

  • Intestinal diseases such as diarrhea or surgical colic.
  • Sepsis due to abdominal cavity infection (septic peritonitis) or pleuropneumonia.
  • Ingestion of ergot alkaloids from hay or endophyte-infected fescue grass
  • Improper hoof trimming
  • Poor hoof conformation
  • Inactivity

These are some of the major causes of equine Laminitis. A horse that undergoes any of these health problems has a higher chance of suffering from laminae inflammation.

Laminitis Stages

Laminitis occurs in different stages. They are:

  • Developmental Stage: This is the earliest stage of the ailment. It covers the beginning of the problem until the horse starts experiencing clinical signs. The major symptoms are increased digital pulse, pain, and Laminitic stance. If you discover the ailment at this stage, it will be easier and less expensive to manage. The developmental stage usually lasts between 24 and 60 hours.
  • Acute Stage: The ailment enters this stage at the end of the 60 hours. At this stage, there is a small window between 24 and 72 hours. Once the period is over, the coffin bone will be displaced from its original position in the hoof capsule. The small window affords the vet and farrier to intervene and put a stop to the internal damage. It is even possible to reverse the damage.
  • Chronic Stage: This starts within 72 hours after the beginning of the acute stage. Within that period, the coffin bone moves within the capsule. It is usually the most difficult stage. It requires more effort and money to manage the ailment at its chronic level.

Diagnosis

If your horse is showing one or more of the symptoms above, it may be struggling with laminitis. You need to visit a veterinarian for confirmation. The vet will carry out a comprehensive diagnosis of the problem to find out if it is equine laminitis or not.

The diagnosis includes radiographs. An X-ray of the horse will help in learning the real situation. The vet needs this knowledge to understand the best way to handle the ailment. Working with your farrier will also be easier once the vet knows the condition of the horse. Knowing the extent of the damage the inflammation has done will also be useful.

Laminitis Prevention

Treating laminitis can be a bit challenging. It is easier to prevent the disease than treating it once it becomes full-blown. So, it is best to protect your horse from the painful laminae inflammation.

Some effective preventive measures you can adopt are:

1. Monitor their diet

Close monitoring of your horse’s diet is the first preventive measure against laminitis. If you are unsure about healthy equine foods for your horse, contact feed companies. They will offer professional advice that will make feeding your horse a lot easier.

Some of the factors that determine the best diets include the horse type and workload. If your horse or pony is dieting, don’t feed them more than 1.25 to 1.5% of their body weight.

This doesn’t imply that you should starve your pony or horse. Starving them is counterproductive. It exposes them to hyperlipaemia and other health problems. Rather, their diet should be made up of low carbohydrate, high fiber, and low sugar products. These are healthy meals that will boost their immunity.

Don’t feed them with molassed products and cereal mixes. But, you can include a probiotic supplement to boost their hindgut.

Once you keep a regimen of healthy feeding, you will boost their immunity to Laminitis.

2. Create an Exercise Program

You can help your horse fight off obesity and boost its immunity to laminitis by engaging it in a good exercise program. Here are some ways you can boost its fitness:

  • Trail riding or hacking: A great way to make your horse fit is to go on long hacks. You can vary your hacking. You can focus on walking while you add some occasional trots. You could also focus on trotting and canter. Devoting an hour to hacking daily will have a positive impact on the fitness of your horse.
  • Take it up and down hills: Another way to boost your horse’s fitness is to take it up and down hills. The hill shouldn’t be too high or steep. Rather, it should have a gradual slope that makes moving up and down easy. There is a secret to hill work. During the session, you are working on the different parts of the horse’s body. The faster the horse can run up the hill, the stronger it becomes. To improve muscle tone and strength, consider walking and trotting up the hills. Find some great ways to make the session exciting and less stressful for the horse.
  • Canter the horse: A cantering horse makes three-beat gait movement, in a rocking motion. This is one of the best techniques you can adopt if you wish to boost your horse’s stamina and strength. Allow your horse to canter for about 10 minutes daily, and you will be amazed at the results. If you are considering several cantering sessions, don’t do it at a stretch. Break the session up. Introduce other exercises or walking between sessions.

3. Use Poles and Gymnastics

You can boost your horse’s fitness with gymnastics and poles. You don’t have to set poles too high for it to jump. Low jumps are ideal at this stage. They are effective because they make it easier for the horse to cope with the exercise without undergoing unnecessary strain.

This training is also great for developing fitness and technique. Your horse needs this if it is a jumping one. The training will also help to work the array of muscles in their body. A horse that undergoes such training regularly will experience an impressive improvement in its pace.

At the initial stage, normal poles are great. Set them on the ground to enable the horse canter and trot over them. Once the horse gets better, gradually introduce raised poles. Increase the distance to give it more gaits. This will make it work harder and become more fit.

You can also introduce some exercises like strides, small bounces, and trotting poles.

4. Seek Veterinary Assistance

Once you notice some abnormalities in your horse’s gait, don’t wait until it becomes a full blown problem before you act. You can prevent some infections that may trigger Laminitis if you are attentive and alert.

For instance, if your mare is yet to dispose of its placenta about 10 hours after foaling, get in touch with your vet to check what could be wrong. if you don’t, you put her at risk of contracting Laminitis.

Laminitis Treatment And Management

If your horse is already infected with laminitis, you need to seek medical help as soon as possible.

The treatment regimen may include the following:

  • Diagnosis: The first step towards laminitis treatment is diagnosis. Once the vet identifies the problem, the treatment of the primary cause begins.
  • Use mineral oil: If the horse has issues with its digestive tract, treat it with mineral oil. A nasogastric tube is a perfect tool for this as it makes it easier to purge the defective tract. This is usually the preferred treatment option if the primary cause is over eating.
  • Hydration: Sometimes, dehydration triggers Laminitis. Hydrating your horse will solve that problem. It is also one of the most effective treatment options for a sick horse.
  • Use antibiotics: Infection also causes this inflammation. An effective treatment for infection is antibiotics. You can administer antibiotics to get rid of infections. A commonly used one is anti-endotoxins, powerful antibiotics for bacterial toxicity reduction. Vasodilators and anticoagulants are also generally used for reducing blood pressure. It also boosts blood flow to the horse’s feet.
  • Control abscesses: Abscess development is another issue that must be addressed. One effective way to do this is to open the abscesses and drain them.
  • Corrective trimming: This is another effective treatment option. It is important to trim the affected foot to enable it to align with the hoof capsules. It must also be in perfect alignment with the internal structures of the hoof. It may be necessary to bring in X-ray photographs to aid perfect trimming. This is necessary to relieve the horse of other problems that can worsen the situation. It also makes it easier for the hoof wall to grow without issues. To achieve this, trim the affected area properly. Do it in a way that the hoof wall can be parallel with the coffin bone’s edge. This will realign the structures.
  • Wear Corrective Shoes: Have the horse wear a pair of corrective shoes. This will prevent the pedal bone from rotating. The shoes will apply pressure that puts the bone in its original place. A typical example of such shoes is the heart bar shoe. The equi-pak shoe is another great option. It provides protection and support for horses. It helps them absorb concussion and shock that may worsen the horse’s condition. This will leave the frog and sole in the best condition. With these therapeutic shoes, it will be pretty easy to treat the problem.