How Laminitis in Horses Can Be Fatal, If Not Caught Early

March 02, 2022 7 min read

How Laminitis in Horses Can Be Fatal, If Not Caught Early

Laminitis in horses is more common than you think. Your horse’s foot contains a coffin bone and a hoof wall, and tissues calledlaminaeto connect them. When the blood flow in the laminae is disrupted, that is what causes laminitis in your four-legged partner.

If not prevented or treated early, laminitis may cause long-term lameness in your riding pal and may lead to worse consequences. Different treatments can help prevent laminitis from happening, recurring, or can help alleviate your riding partner’s discomfort.

Defining Horse Laminitis

Laminitis in your equine partner occurs when your horse’s laminae stretch, separate or break apart. Your riding partner’s foot contains a wedge-shaped bone called the coffin bone, and the laminae is a “velcro-like” tissue that secures the coffin bone to the hoof wall. This causes your equine to be in pain. If your riding pal’s laminitis is already severe, the coffin bone and the hoof wall may even separate, with the coffin bone rotating within the foot. You can only imagine how painful that can be for your equine!

Also called “founder,” laminitis usually affects the front hooves, but it can affect the hind legs as well.

How to Prevent This Common Condition

Anunderlying hormonal disease, such as Cushing’s Disease or the Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), is a leading cause of laminitis in horses. Cushing’s disease is when your riding partner has an abnormal pituitary gland, making them eat and drink more than the usual horse’s diet. On the other hand, EMS is when your equine is resistant to insulin, which leads to obesity. These hormonal diseases can be exacerbated by overfeeding your four-legged pal. When you overfeed your equine with too much grain, fruit, or lush forage, it causes sudden changes in their diet. Illnesses and diseases such as high fever, having severe colic, or previous foot diseases, can also lead to laminitis. A horse with excessive weight or that relies heavily on one leg over the other because of injury can also become a factor.

Preventing laminitis is always the preferred scenario compared to curing the condition.

Here are a few ways on how tostop laminitis before it even begins:

  1. Implement a healthy, balanced diet for your equine.
    • Since the common cause of laminitis is when your riding partner eats too many carbohydrates from grain, watching what they eat and sticking to a healthy, balanced diet is the easiest and most common preventive measure you can take. Too much of anything is not good for your riding partner's health, and overfeeding your equine does not show how much you love them. Taking care of their health and well-being does!
  2. Provide opportunities for exercise.
    • Review your equine partner’s daily exercise routine or how much work they put in. Having a good exercise program will keep them healthy and fit. When exercise is paired with a balanced diet, this routine will help them shed off the excess weight.
  3. Pay special attention to taking care of their hooves.
    • While your riding pal should be taken care of from head to hoof, proper hoof care is sometimes overlooked, especially when compared to how much attention is put on your horse’s back or mane. The brunt of the work happens on your riding partner’s back, but bear in mind that it’s your equine partner’s legs that carry it all. Going to check-ups with your vet, contacting your farrier or trimmer, and other routinary care will help a lot in putting more attention to that area.  
  4. Care for both the “bad” and “good” hoof.
    • If your equine suffers a serious leg injury, most of the care and attention usually goes to the “bad” hoof. However, a good veterinarian will know that you must take care of the healthy hooves as well. The support given to the uninjured hooves and legs will help your riding partner not just recuperate but also use all four legs equally. When there is no preferred or “good” hoof, the weight will be evenly spread out, and so will be the work done by your riding partner.
  5. Keep up with their health checks, medications, and supplements.
    • Go for routine visits with your equine’s veterinarian, and be updated with the vaccinations and the necessary parasite control. Ask your equine partner’s vet for any recommendations for additional supplements or medications to address your horse’s concerns.

Spot Laminitis Before It Gets Worse

Catching the earlysigns of mild laminitis is difficult, because these symptoms may well be indications for other conditions or diseases. However, since you know your horse best, you are the most likely person to know if something is “off”. Paying closer attention to your riding pal for any changes in demeanor, personality, or overall appearance will help stop laminitis or other conditions from progressing. Being more observant will save your equine from suffering in the long run. Look for these early laminitis warning signs:

  • Sudden onset of slight lameness
  • Stretched, white line in the hoof or feet
  • Reluctant gait or turning
  • Walking on heels
  • Preference for walking on soft ground instead of hard ground
  • Stone bruises in the soles
  • Rings in the hoof wall becoming wider
  • Flat feet
  • Heat in your riding partner’s feet, and increased pulse in the area
  • “Cresty” neck or fat underneath the neck

Laminitis and a Dehooved Horse: What’s the Difference?

Both laminitis anddehooving happen in the same area of your equine which is their foot, and both these conditions involve the hoof. When a horse loses a hoof, it's usually because of poor hoof care. Without a hoof, the equine’s foot loses its protection, exposing the laminae, and such may become a cause of laminitis. It is important to note, however, that your riding partner cannot lose a hoof because of laminitis.

Treating Mild Cases of Laminitis

If you suspect that your equine is suffering from laminitis and is exhibiting symptoms, there are a few things you can do while waiting for your visit to the vet in treating mild cases of laminitis.

  1. Move your riding pal from the grass to supportive bedding.
    • Being in a pasture will not give your equine the hoof support that they need. Deep, supportive bedding made of sawdust or sand will greatly help. If your equine has boots and pads, add those on for extra support.
  2. Give veterinarian-prescribed medication for pain alleviation.
    • Get your vet’s clearance before giving your riding partner medication for any inflammation or pain—don’t self-medicate!
  3. Utilize cold therapy.
    • If your equine’s laminitis isn’t cold-induced, you can apply cold therapy to numb and lessen inflammation in the area, also alleviating pain in the process.

Bring your horse in for an x-ray as soon as possible and get your veterinarian’s diagnosis, so that you can follow a regimen and treatment plan suited to your equine partner’s condition.

Treatment for Acute Laminitis in Your Four-Legged Pal

If your horse is diagnosed by your veterinarian with laminitis, their treatment will be highly individualized depending on the severity of the disease, other medical conditions your riding partner may have, and even your veterinarian’s expertise.

Often, veterinarians will prescribe medication to alleviate pain and lessen inflammation in the area. They may also prescribe medication that will help improve the blood flow in the affected area as part oftreatment for acute laminitis.

Expect necessary changes in your horse’s diet, as well as their beddings. Depending again on the severity of the disease, a required period of rest plus an exercise regimen, will also be given.

Can I Still Ride an Equine with Laminitis?

A riding partner who is suffering from laminitis will experience pain in the area, and you will notice slight lameness or changes in their gait straightaway. There will be a feeling that your horse is “walking on eggshells,” attempting to lessen the pain they are feeling by putting more weight on the healthy hoof.

When your four-legged pal is undergoing treatment, it’s best to take a break from their daily activities and only do the exercises that your veterinarian recommends to nurse your riding partner back to health. Forcing a horse that is still recuperating into going back to work too early into recovery will up the chances of them getting laminitis again or it will prolong their recovery. Horses who had mild laminitis recover quickly, while those with acute or chronic laminitis usually take months, with some never fully recovering.

Once your veterinarian has cleared your horse to resume their daily activities, they can gradually go back to their usual worky. In mild cases, horses return with minimal or no indication that they went through the disease at all. In some cases, such as an equine partner experiencing lameness due to the condition, it will be necessary to adjust to their “new normal”, and adapt their daily activities to your riding pal’s strengths and abilities.

Help Your Horse Recover with Bell Boots

Protecting the affected hoof can be done withhoof boots or bell boots. It will help your riding partner feel more comfortable while they are healing because it gives the hoof the support it needs. For anyadded support, pads can be put in the hooves or on the legs as well.

Whenever your equine is diagnosed with any condition, especially laminitis, it may be disheartening knowing how much pain your four-legged friend must be going through. Hearing the news that your horse has laminitis may not be welcome, but there are options that you can consider along with your veterinarian’s prescriptions to help your equine partner recover from it. After all, you only have your riding pal’s best interests at heart, and their full recovery from laminitis is just on the horizon because of your care and assistance.

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