Due to the recent warm and wet weather we have been having, we now have a huge amount of grass in the paddocks.

 

While this is a pleasant change after winter, it brings with it the very real risk of laminitis. In the last few weeks we have been seeing a large number of cases, from mildly footsore to acutely painful and recumbent.
While everyone expects to be wary of the overweight little pony, any horse can be susceptible to laminitis in the wrong scenario. Luckily, given the recent discovery of the links between laminitis and the hormonal disorders Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and PPID or (formerly known as Equine Cushing's), we can be more aware of the risks and allow us to be more prepared. As with many problems, with laminitis, prevention is far better than cure.

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae (the tissues between the hoof wall and the pedal bone) of the foot. 

Signs that might mean your horse may have developed Laminitis
It is incredibly painful and causes the horse or pony to stand with its weight on its heels to relieve the pressure on its toes. The horse will also have a ‘pottery’ gait and will struggle to turn tightly. Most commonly it occurs in the front feet, but can be seen in the hind feet, all four feet or occasionally just the one foot. The affected hoof will often be hotter than normal, and will have increased digital pulses, which can be felt just above the fetlock on the back of the leg. They may also be painful around the coronet band.When your horse or pony develops laminitis, the inflamed laminae can become damaged, which results in the pedal bone rotating, sinking or both. These changes are often irreversible and may result in the pedal bone coming through the sole of the foot. The degree of rotation or dropping of the pedal bone is assessed by x-raying the foot. X-rays are an important way to assess each case and allow us to give a better treatment plan and a prognosis.  

 

HOOFThis x-ray image shows pedal bone rotation due to laminitis.

 Treatment

Once x-rayed, we can advise the farrier on the best way to shoe the horse to support the foot, so preventing any further rotation or sinking of the pedal bone. The hooves will often be too painful to have shoes nailed on, so we will often place foam support pads on the feet, or your farrier will be able to fit glue-on heart bar shoes. These will also make the feet less painful. 

It is very important that your horse goes on strict box rest straight away (often for 6 weeks) with thick bedding, spread right up to the door. This will make them much more comfortable, as well as providing support to the feet. They should be fed a restricted diet with soaked hay to reduce their sugar intake. They will also be prescribed anti-inflammatories (Bute) for pain relief and to treat the inflamed laminae. Swift action is vital in the treatment of laminitis, in order to prevent the rotation and sinking of the pedal bone. Sadly, when cases are so severe that the horse is in constant pain, or the pedal bone has come through the sole of the foot, euthanasia is the only option. It is therefore vitally important that all owners are vigilant about monitoring their horses’ weight, grass intake and check feet when they come in from the field. If you are suspicious of your their  horse having EMS, Cushing's or both, it is important to get them blood tested. If both of these conditions are controlled with medication and management, we will be much more successful in preventing and treating laminitis.

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If you suspect your horses has laminitis you must seek urgent veterinary assistance and seek your own veterinary advice.