18th October 2017

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis is a very painful condition of the feet, also sometimes referred to as ‘founder’.  It involves inflammation of the sensitive tissues of the foot which disrupts their structure and in severe cases can lead to the pedal (coffin) bone rotating and sinking through the sole to become exposed.  Laminitis most commonly affects the front feet but can be seen in all 4 feet and it is important to realise this is not just a spring condition of overweight ponies.

Recognising the signs:

  • Laminitis can be either acute (sudden severe onset) or chronic (gradual subtler onset)

In the acute form you will typically notice:

  • The horse/pony is reluctant to move forward and may appear stiff
  • Unable to walk on hard uneven surface, or turn in tight circles
  • They typically adopt a stance with the front feet stretched forward and their weight shifted to their back legs
  • Heat in the feet with a bounding pulse which you feel above the heel bulbs

In the chronic form:

  • Milder forms of the above signs
  • Seen in horses/ponies that have previously had an acute episode of laminitis
  • Often have rings around the hoof

What to do if you suspect Laminitis:

It is important you contact your vet immediately.  Laminitis is still not fully understood despite much research, but one thing is certain: your horse/pony will have a much better chance of recovering if it is treated promptly.

It is most important to make your horse/pony more comfortable by getting it to a stable immediately with a deep bed of shavings to provide support to the foot.
You should remove all feed and leave only water.

If the horse/pony prefers to lie down in its new deep bed this should not be discouraged as it will take the pressure off its feet.
When the vet arrives, they will assess your horse/pony and decide if this is an acute or chronic episode and also if it is mild, moderate or severe.
Any treatment will involve a period of box rest and this will minimise the chances of the disruption to the sensitive tissues of the foot leading to movement of the pedal bone.
It is also usual for the vet to arrange some type of support for your horse's feet, to give a course of pain relief and also to discuss carefully your horse's/pony's diet for the period of treatment.

Which horses/ponies get laminitis?

Any! Although traditionally laminitis is considered a condition of overweight ponies, it is by no means exclusive to this group.

  • Obesity in any horse/pony can predispose to laminitis
  • A large one-off intake of feed containing high carbohydrate content can cause laminitis
  • Over-indulging in fresh grass
  • Certain diseases are commonly associated, such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushings
  • Stress
  • Some conditions that cause a widespread infection (sepsis) can result in laminitis, e.g. colic

What happens after my horse/pony has been diagnosed with laminitis?

Once a horse/pony has had laminitis it is always more prone to another episode so from now on you will have to be extra vigilant regarding feed, exercise and weight.
However, in the majority of cases, providing prompt and strict treatment is applied, your horse/pony will recover and return to work.
Your vet may advise x-rays to be taken so we can assess the position of the pedal bone and discuss special shoeing options with your farrier that may help for the future.
As with everything prevention is better than cure.  Permanent changes to your daily management will help minimise the risk of another episode.

  • A diet with minimal carbohydrates whilst still providing a balanced nutrition
  • Electric fencing to restrict the area your horse/pony grazes
  • Grazing muzzle
  • Restrict the amount of exercise you do on hard surfaces
  • Strict attention to routine foot care
  • Regularly use a weigh tape to monitor trends in your horse's/pony's weight