Laminitis – what is it, what causes it and how can we deal with it?

Laminitis or founder is one of the most damaging ailments for the horse’s hoof. The causes are varied but the effects are always the same with varying degrees of severity.


The two main causes are either trauma to the horse through sickness, stress or injury OR, it can be a result of an over-enriched diet, couple this with a lack of exercise and you will find yourself in trouble.


Dealing with horses that have laminitis/founder can be extremely difficult, there are countless publications both in books and on the internet, ultimately, however, all causes result in the same effect.


What happens to the hoof when a horse develops Laminitis?


Laminitis/founder is inflammation of the laminae of the foot – the soft tissue structures that attach the coffin or pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall.


The inflammation and damage to the laminae causes extreme pain and leads to instability of the coffin bone in the hoof


A horse will often try and walk back on its heels, because this swelling causes the laminae to expand, pushing the sole down and the hoof capsule to turn up.


According to numerous publications, a laminitic episode generally occurs within 20 and 72 hours after a trigger event.

The causes do vary and may include digestive upsets due to grain overload (such as excess grain, fruit, or snacks) or abrupt changes in diet. Picture that naughty pony breaking into the feed shed and stuffing its face into a bag of grain for hours…


Sudden access to excessive amounts of lush forage before the horse's system has had time to adapt. Most improved pastures for horses and are far too rich in carbohydrates; this causes a high pulse rate which in turn causes the laminae under the hoof capsule to swell in the toe area (like a blood blister under a thumbnail) and creates instant lameness.



What is the best treatment for Laminitis?


Unfortunately, Laminitis/Founder is life-changing for the horse, the damage caused to the laminae will never return to normal once it has been stretched.


There is no founder specific therapy available, though most recommended treatments are to reduce pain, eliminate or minimize any predisposing factors, reduce or prevent the magnitude of permanent laminar damage, and prevent displacement of the third phalanx within the hoof capsule.


Recommended treatments can include, administration of mineral oil (if the horse engorged on grain), intravenous fluids, parenteral antibiotics when a bacterial infection is documented, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), polymyxin-B, and hyperimmune serum or plasma.





How do I know if my horse is getting laminitis?


The most recognisable symptom of animals suffering from laminitis is the characteristic ‘standing on their heels’. This is where they are leaning back onto the heels in order to take the weight off their painful toes. Damage has already been done by this point.


Other signs may include:

· Increase digital pulses

· Hoof sensitivity

· Heat felt in the hoof wall

· Reluctance to move or lying down

· Lameness, stiffness, footsore, general change in gait

· Shifting of weight or restlessness

· Sweating and blowing; may appear colicky

· Pus in the foot


Laminitis/Founder should always be treated as a medical emergency, therefore if you suspect your horse or pony has laminitis you need to contact your veterinarian immediately.


The cause of the laminitis needs to be identified as it could be part of a larger medical issue that would also need to be treated.