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Laminitis in Horses

Laminitis in Horses, the Causes and What You Can Do About It

Laminitis is one of the most serious and crippling diseases horses can have. Sadly, severe and recurring cases of laminitis can cause your horse to suffer a lot and limit his ability. Treatment for laminitis can be extremely time consuming and expensive, requiring a lot of persistence from the carer for an extended period. I have written this article to raise awareness of horse health and how they develop laminitis. Hopefully it will help educate horse owners on the condition so that people know how to prevent and treat it.

What is Laminitis in Horses?

Before I go any further, it is worth explaining what exactly laminitis is and how it affects horses. Laminitis is a painful inflammatory condition of the tissues that can affect horses of any age or gender, at any time of the year. Laminitis is caused by a weakening of the supporting lamina within the hoof. This causes painful tearing of the support structure that suspends the pedal bone within the hoof. If the condition is not treated properly, the condition can worsen and cause considerable damage.

Causes of Laminitis in Horses

The true cause of laminitis in horses is still unclear. However, there are a number of factors that may lead to the condition or cause it to worsen. There are also numerous factors that can make a horse predisposed to getting the painful condition. Please add to this list by posting a comment. we know our readers always benefit from the experiences of others. And if we can save one horse from suffering unnecessarily, then it will all be worthwhile. Set out below are some of the main causes of laminitis in horses:

Overweight Horses

Overweight horses are significantly more prone to laminitis than healthy, fit horses. Feed overload, either through overfeeding or from when a horse breaks into a feed bin, can cause a horse to eat far too much. Encourage your horse to stay a healthy body weight by feeding him appropriately sized meals and providing him with regular exercise. An overweight horse is likely to take the following path to laminitis:

  • Too much food in the stomach.
  • Soluble carbohydrate that should be digested in the small intestine overflows into the hind gut.The bacterial balance in the hind gut is upset and bacteria that prefer soluble carbohydrate proliferate and take over from fibre-digesting bacteria.
  • Death and rupture of the fibre-digesting bacteria due to acid conditions leads to endotoxins (poisons) being released. The acid environment also makes the gut wall more permeable (leaky) and toxins enter the blood stream.
  • Blood circulation and pressure is affected and laminitis will follow.


Stress is bad for horses in many ways. However, a horse that is continually stressed may be more prone to laminitis. For example, when stressed from a long journey a horse will release higher levels of corticosteroid hormones. These have a similar effect to administered steroids and can make a horse more susceptible to laminitis.


This is a term that can be confusing for some, but it basically means that a horse has numerous toxins circulating in its blood stream. This can be caused by a number of things, such as diarrhoea or from a retained placenta after foaling. If you suspect your horse has Toxemia, book a check-up with a trusted vet.


Horses can experience all kinds of traumas. If a horse suffers a concussion (to which driving horses are particularly prone), he may be more susceptible to laminitis. Futhermore, a horse with uneven weight bearing, where one limb is immobilised due to an injury, can also be more prone to laminitis.

Certain Drugs

There are particular drugs that horses react badly too or that have risky side-effects. Corticosteroids can result in an increased constriction in the arteries of the foot. This can restrict blood flow, causing a horse to fall ill with laminitis.

Common Symptoms of Laminitis

The symptoms of laminitis differ with each horse. Some horse’s clearly show extreme pain reactions to the condition, while others show very few symptoms.

Acute Laminitis

For horses suffering from acute laminitis, symptoms can come on very quickly and severely – causing extreme pain to horses. A horse suffering from acute laminitis will show a reluctance or complete inability to walk or move, in case he causes further pain. With acute laminitis, your horse will be visibly lame when moving and, when standing, may well support his weight on his hind legs to relieve the pressure on his front feet.

Chronic Laminitis

Horses with chronic laminitis will show signs of laminitis and ongoing symptoms that generally result from a previous attack. The horse’s hoof will have what appears to be growth rings around the hoof wall, which generally indicates that it has suffered from laminitis in the past. In cases of chronic laminitis, the heel will often grow faster than the toe and the white line in the hoof will have widened.

Emergency Treatment of Laminitis

  • Call the vet
  • Remove the horse from the grass and confine on deep, supportive bedding (sand, sawdust or pea gravel)
  • Apply cold therapy to the feet to reduce inflammation and pain

Correct treatments need to be administered by your vet as soon as possible to prevent any lasting damage to the feet and provide effective pain relief.

Is There a Cure for Laminitis in Horses?

Most horses will recover from laminitis, given the appropriate treatment. However, their recovery will depend upon many factors, including when the problem was first spotted, how severe the problem was and how soon treatment was started. The mildest forms of laminitis can often be cured quickly by making simple changes in management, notably feeding. Following the recommendations and treatments suggested by your vet and nutritionist will lay the foundation for the most successful recovery.

Check Your Horse Daily for Laminitis

To keep on top of your horse’s health and ensure he isn’t developing any clinical signs or symptoms of laminitis, carry out daily checks:

  • Walk your horse on hard ground to see if he shortens his stride or seems at all unwilling.
  • Turn your horse in a tight circle to see if he is reluctant to complete the task or extremely stiff.
  • Check your horse’s digital pulses are normal.
  • Check for areas of fat build up that are unusual (neck, above the tail, or bulges above the eyes).

How to Prevent Horse Laminitis

There are numerous steps you can take, in caring for your horse, that help prevent laminitis from developing. Most cases of laminitis are predominantly triggered by an excessive intake of sugar and starches. This can be effectively management through dietary changes to improve the health of your horse. You can also take further steps to prevent laminitis by ensuring your horse not overweight, is regularly exercised, and has a healthy diet.

Help Your Horse Live Longer with 5 Diet Essentials 

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