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Equine Laminitis: What Every Horse Owner Should Know

Equine Laminitis: What Every Horse Owner Should Know

Horse owners are concerned about a condition called equine laminitis, which can severely damage the hooves' strength and function, causing pain. In this blog, our vets in Mount Vernon will provide essential information on the causes and treatment of this condition in horses.

What is Laminitis in Horses?

Laminitis, also known as founder, is a painful and potentially serious condition that affects a horse's hooves. It involves the inflammation of the sensitive laminae, which are structures that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone inside the hoof. This inflammation can disrupt the proper blood flow to the hoof and cause varying degrees of discomfort and lameness.

What are the signs of laminitis in horses?

Laminitis is characterized by inflammation of the laminae, the sensitive tissues connecting the hoof to the underlying structures. Recognizing the signs early can make a significant difference in your horse's well-being. Keep an eye out for:

  • Lameness: Noticeable limping or uneven gait, especially when turning.
  • Increased Digital Pulse: An elevated pulse in the hoof area.
  • Reluctance to Move: Hesitation to walk or difficulty turning in circles.
  • Shifted Weight: A horse may try to alleviate discomfort by shifting weight between hooves.
  • Warm Hooves: Abnormally warm hooves, indicating inflammation.

What are the causes of laminitis in horses?

Understanding the causes of laminitis is essential to prevent and manage this condition effectively. While some cases of laminitis remain idiopathic (of unknown origin), several factors have been identified as potential triggers:

  • Dietary Factors: Rapid consumption of high-starch or high-sugar feeds, such as lush grass or grain overload, can cause a surge in insulin levels and trigger laminitis.
  • Obesity: Overweight horses, especially those with excess body fat, are at a higher risk of developing laminitis due to increased pressure on the hooves.
  • Endocrine Disorders: Conditions like Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Cushing's disease can disrupt hormone regulation and contribute to the development of laminitis.
  • Physical Trauma: Severe trauma, such as excessive exercise on hard surfaces or constant pounding, can damage the laminae and lead to laminitis.
  • Systemic Illnesses: Horses suffering from infections, colitis, or other systemic illnesses might experience laminitis as a secondary effect.
  • Excessive Carbohydrate Intake: Sudden consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates, commonly seen during grain-rich meals or rapid access to lush pastures, can overwhelm the horse's digestive system and trigger laminitis.
  • Concussion and Weight Shifts: Mechanical factors can also trigger laminitis, such as excessive weight shifts on a single limb or repeated concussive forces.
  • Medications and Toxins: Certain medications and toxins, including corticosteroids and black walnut shavings, can contribute to laminitis development.

It's important to keep in mind that prevention is the best way to avoid laminitis in horses. This can be achieved by maintaining a well-balanced diet, managing weight, ensuring appropriate exercise, and scheduling regular veterinary check-ups. By taking these essential steps, the risk of laminitis can be significantly reduced.

What is the treatment for laminitis?

Ensuring timely initiation of treatment maximizes the potential for successful recovery. The course of treatment will be tailored to individual circumstances, encompassing the following strategies:

  • Identification and Addressing the Root Issue: Often, laminitis stems from systemic or overarching concerns within the horse's body. The focus will be on diagnosing and rectifying these core problems.
  • Dietary Adjustments: Ceasing the provision of grain-based feeds and pasture is imperative. Solely feeding the horse grass hay should continue until advised by the attending veterinarian.
  • Mineral Oil Application: To cleanse the horse's digestive tract, especially in cases of overindulgence, mineral oil will be administered through a nasogastric tube.
  • Hydration and Fluid Management: In cases of illness or dehydration, administering fluids becomes pivotal to the recovery process.
  • Pharmacological Interventions: Utilizing antibiotics to combat infections, anti-endotoxins to mitigate bacterial toxicity, and employing anticoagulants and vasodilators to enhance blood flow to the feet while reducing blood pressure.
  • Optimal Resting Conditions: Stabling the horse on soft surfaces like sand or shavings (avoiding black walnut) is advised. Encouraging the horse to lie down will alleviate pressure on the weakened laminae.
  • Abscess Management: Swiftly addressing any abscess formation through appropriate drainage measures.
  • Collaboration Between Veterinarian and Farrier: A coordinated approach between the veterinarian and the farrier is crucial. Techniques like corrective trimming, provision of frog supports, and the application of therapeutic shoes or pads can be beneficial.
  • Innovative Therapies: Your veterinarian might propose novel treatments, including immersing the horse's feet in ice water to avert the onset of laminitis subsequent to predisposing factors such as retained placenta or grain overconsumption.

Please keep in mind that the information provided is intended as a general guideline. For accurate and personalized advice, it is advisable to consult with your veterinarian.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Your horse's health is of paramount importance. If you have concerns about laminitis or need personalized guidance on its prevention and treatment, don't hesitate to reach out to our vets in Mount Vernon today. 

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