Laminitis for dummies


Laminitis for dummies

A very painful condition of the hooves.

  • VALERIE DE CLERCK

    DOCTOR OF VETERINARY MEDICINE

  • 20 APRIL 2022

Laminitis is a painful condition of the hooves in horses and ponies that requires urgent treatment. In other words, a rather serious matter. Because it is better to prevent than to cure, we have listed a few causes of laminitis below. Spoiler alert: there’s quite a few of them.

Person holding the feet of a horse CURAFYT

Laminitis is a painful condition of the hooves in horses and ponies that requires urgent treatment.


Laminitis is life-threatening for your horse or pony. 

What is laminitis, really?


A laminitic horse or pony suffers from inflamed tissue between the hoof wall and the coffin bone (the third phalanx). This tissue consists of layers, called the laminae or lamellae, and they inflame when the blood supply to the hoof is interrupted. 


In the worst case, the laminae let go, causing the coffin bone to sink through the sole of the hoof. This is life-threatening for your horse or pony. 

What is CAUSING laminitis IN HORSES AND PONIES?


Laminitis can have many causes. One thing is certain: this kind of inflammation always arises as a result of a problem somewhere else in your horse’s body. Let’s list a few:


1. Metabolic disorders


Metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, Cushing’s disease (PPID), and Equine Metabolic Disease carry an increased risk of laminitis.


2. High fructan levels in the grass 


Research shows that most cases of laminitis (61%!) occur in horses and ponies who are on pasture. The culprit: fructan, a kind of sugar found in grass. The leaves produce fructan under the influence of sunlight, and in an ideal situation they use it as a building material to grow. 


However, fructan accumulates in the grass when sunlight creates a lot of it, but the grass cannot grow properly. This can be due to cold temperatures, for example, or a lack of water and nutrients. This makes spring a dangerous time for your horse’s hooves: on sunny spring days the grass produces loads of fructan, but the cold nights mean it cannot be properly processed.


3. Too much sugar in concentrated feed


Concentrated feed is full of cereals—and these in turn abound with sugars. Hence, the concentrated feed is a risk factor for laminitis too. Just like a sudden change in diet, by the way.


4. Overweight


When your horse or pony is overweight, he or she runs a higher risk to get laminitis. This is because the sugar and fat metabolism in the liver does not function as well in obese horses.


5. Overburdening


Overburdening occurs when your horse or pony relies excessively on one limb, as a result of an injury or lameness to the other. This can contribute to laminitis.


6. Toxic substances in the blood


This complication is common in horses or ponies with severe colic or a retained placenta. The intestinal wall then becomes more permeable, allowing toxins from intestinal bacteria to enter the bloodstream. These same toxins then end up in the blood vessels of the hooves, where they can cause laminitis.


7. Certain medication


Certain types of medication, such as long-acting corticosteroids, can also contribute to laminitis.


pony grazing in the field

most cases of laminitis (61%!) occur in horses and ponies who are on pasture.

To the rescue: how to recognise a horse with laminitis?


If you do have to resort to a cure because you could not prevent laminitis, you should recognize the symptoms. In the early stages, that’s not easy, unless if you know what to look for. Your horse can have laminitis when... 


1. … the hooves feel warm

2. … he or she walks stiffly or more rigidly

3. … you can feel the blood vessels pulsing in the lower foot, at the level of the ball (or just below). Place three fingers on the inside of the fetlock and feel around until you find a large vein. Do you feel a heartbeat in the artery? Then your horse or pony might have laminitis.


At further stages, laminitis is a lot more noticeable. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t come to that, but here are three clear signs that indicate progress of the disease:


1. Your horse steps very hesitantly. 

2. Your horse stands with front feet extended to relieve pressure on the toes.

3. Pain manifesting itself as fever, sweating and increased heart rate.


Do these symptoms ring a bell? Time for action. Step one: call your veterinarian, because he or she will help your buddy get rid of the pain as soon as possible. Step two: because we know a thing or two about horses, we’ll be happy to tell you how to help your four-legged friend get back on its feet—from cool hooves to appropriate exercise to helpful herbs and minerals. Good luck!


pony with laminitis standing with front feet extended

A horse or pony with laminitis typically stands with front feet extended to relieve pressure on the toes.

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