Horse Laminitis

Horse Laminitis -  What is Laminitis and How Can It be diagnosed?

I recently attended a talk by Robert A Eustace Cert.e.o. Cert. e.p. Frcvs., about Horse Laminitis,  Robert is a founder member and a Director of The Laminitis Trust, the only registered charity dedicated to supporting research into horse laminitis.   He has spent most of his working life studying, and researching Horse Laminitis, and runs his own horse laminitis clinic in Wiltshire.  During the talk we were given precious information about this horrible condition, one of the most common causes of lameness and disability of horses and ponies in this country.   I feel much more informed about the condition now and the information that I have gained will help me be much more astute when dealing with laminitis prone or simply preventing the start of it.
Information is key and so I hope that what I share with you about Horse Laminitis will be of  benefit to you as your role as a horse carer.

What is Horse Laminitis?

More causes of Horse Laminitis are listed below, but generally the main one is that the horse overeats too many carbohydrates from either gorging on too much grass or hard feed.  Over a period, as the horse eats more glucose than it needs for maintenance; the excess energy is laid down as fat, eventually causing, what is now being recognised as a metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance,  predisposing to Horse Laminitis.

Causes of Horse Laminitis:

  1. Obesity:   Overeating!                    
  2. Toxemia: Any systemic disease involving a septic or toxic focus i.e., pneumonia, pleurisy, diarrhoea, colic (particularly following colic surgery), purulent metritis.
  3. Trauma:   Fast work or jumping on hard ground can bring on horse laminitis.
  4. Improper foot dressing of chronic founder cases allowing either, a build up of hyperplastic laminar horn beneath the front part of the wall, or excessive heel growth leading to a broken forward phalangeal axis; both these will lead to chronic or recurrent bouts of  lameness.
  5. Corticosteroid drugs:  The administration of corticosteroid drugs to susceptible or stressed animals can induce horse laminitis.
  6. Hormonal:
  7. Mares who develope an infection after birth can suffer from laminitis in the future.
  8. Any stress such as overworking unfit horses, prolonged travelling in hot (or cold) conditions, anthelmintic treatments (particularly double doses of pyrantel) or vaccination may result in laminitis in some animals. Certain cream treatments for the treatment of sarcoids seem to be related to the onset of horse laminitis and founder.
  9. Cushings Disease:  This is a condition which creates an abnormality with the pituatary gland in the head.  One of the effects of cushings can often be the start of horse laminitis.


  •     Hot feet are not always a sign of laminitis, a horse foot temperature will fluctuate throughout the day, but regular feeling of your horses feet will give you a good indication as to what is normal for your horse.
  •     By taking the digital pulse regularly of your horse at the point of the fetlock, you will be able to judge when or if the pulse is stronger or faster than normal at resting time, therefore you can identify pain or inflammation in your horse hooves, or determine if there are possibly larger issues affecting your horse.  A higher or faster pulse indicates that there is something not quite right.
    happening within one or both feet.  This image above indicates where to take the digital pulse by placing you thumb or first finger over the artery that runs in the groove formed between the flexor tendons and the suspensory.
  • Horse Laminitis can affect one or all four feet.

If your horse is standing with his weight bearing on his heels as image below,                
This is a good indication that he has laminitis in his front feet:

      A horse with laminitis in his back feet will tuck his hind legs under him trying to get the weight off his hind feet toes.  Sometimes in acute cases they will refuse to walk on because of the pain.

The Different Types of Laminitis:

    The severity of horse laminitis has been divided into four groups by the research done by the Laminitis Trust clinic:  Below are the explanations of each group as described by the Horse Laminitis Trust:

Group A:  Horse LaminitisCases were assigned to Group A if they had clinically normal hooves, and no hoof distortions characteristic of chronic founder. These animals had abnormally strong pulsation in the digital arteries of affected feet, tended to adopt a heel-loading and toe-relieving stance, and sometimes showed pain over the dorsal part of the soles of the feet. They sometimes showed resentment to light palpation around the coronary band and shifted their weight from one foot to another.

Group B. – Acute Founder cases. Cases were assigned to Group B if their hooves were similar to Group A but additionally had palpable depressions just above the coronary band. These depressions extended a variable distance (but not all the way) around the coronary band. Coronary depressions were evaluated by running a finger down the pastern and over the coronary band: In the normal horse the finger tends to slide over the coronet and onto the hoof wall; if a depression is present the finger tends to lodge just above the coronary band. The severity of lameness was often but not always greater for Group B cases than for Group A cases.

Group C. – Sinkers  – All sinkers showed depressions which extended the full length of the coronary band. They also showed a bounding digital pulse and reluctance to move or to have a limb lifted. Some cases adopted a toe-relieving stance, others tended to stand flat and shift weight moving in a heavy flat-footed manner, slapping the feet down in a similar way to cases of cervical maladjustment syndrome (wobbler). However none of the sinkers in this study showed signs of chronic founder.

Group D. – Chronic Founder. These cases showed changes in the foot characteristic of chronic founder. Changes included a broken back hoof-pastern axis, over-grown or concave dorsal hoof walls, stretched white lines from quarter to quarter, and divergent growth rings on the hoof walls with the rings being wider at the heels than the toes. There was relative over-growth of the heels and the soles were flat or convex. On palpation the coronary bands often seemed soft or indistinct and the skin seemed to merge directly with the horn. Some of these animals were also demonstrating the signs of laminitis or acute founder. Nevertheless, all cases showing characteristic signs of chronic founder were classified as such in Group D.

Treatment of Horse Laminitis:

The sooner the condition is spotted and treatment starts, the more likely that the horse will return to normal health again, if left untreated horse laminitis can be fatal.

Whether acute or just the start of the symptoms the initial treatment is the same.

  • The vet called to diagnose the severity of the laminitis.
  • The horse or pony should be given the appropriate dose of painkillers such as  phenylbutozone (bute)
  • Stabled on a thick bed of clean shavings for soft support allowing the animal to position his feet how he is most comfortable.
  • Offered a high fibre diet, (hay, high fibre chaff, laminitic specialist feed)
  • Do not walk or attempt to excersise the patient, apart from likely causing further damage, horse laminitis is an extremely painful and stressful condition.
  • A frog support bandaged to the underneath of the hoof  in most cases will be of great benefit to the patient.  The effect will be immediate relief.  If the horse is less comfortable it is likely that an absess has formed beneath the sole, this will have to be treated before the frog supports can be used.
  • Depending on the severity of the condition will depend on the future treatment from now on.  Mild cases should see the patient recovering to normal health by continuing the same  treatment, but lessening the amount of painkillers as the days move on. Usually within 2-3 weeks the animal will be back to normal health..
  • The more severe cases may need plastic glue on shoes to be fitted. Many horses do well in heart bar shoes and the additional of a hospital plate can improve the comfort of those with abnormally sensitive soles or those with solar prolapse.
  • More aggressive surgery has been performed on very severe cases with good results. Refer to The Laminitis Trust site for specific details of treatments and their results..

Prevention Is Better Than Cure!

So how can we prevent horse laminitis?

Any horse or pony allowed to graze for 24 hours, 7 days a week on normal pasture could become laminitic! so..

  • Restrict grazing especially on lush pasture by possibly strip grazing.
  • Stable or put your horse in a yard area during the day with a bite of hay.   The grasses sugars are at its highest during the day.
horse laminitis

A sheltered yarded area at Hivron Horse Haven, with very little grass used for the fatty club during the day!!

  • If you are feeding high concentrate feed, monitor your quantities.
  • Graze with sheep and cattle.
  • Put a nose muzzle on to restrict quantity input. Although this method can be quite effective, care must be taken to make sure that there is nothing in the field to get the nosebag caught up on!
  • Do not put fertilisers on the pastures.
  • Soil test your pasture.  If you pasture has a well balanced nutrient base, the animals grazing it will have a better chance of sustaining a good metabolic system.
  • If you supplement your horses fibre intake, use feed that have the Horse Laminitis Trust Approval Mark , such as Equi Life and Spillers Happy Hoof.  The Mark was created after extensive research by the Laminitis Trust, for owners to indentify feeds that are suitable for laminitic prone or good doers!   Approval is given to feeds which reach certain standards as outlined by the Scientific Committee of the Laminitis Trust.  Take a good look at the Mark below, there are similar Marks created by other companies!!
  • horse laminitisAvoid jumping or fast work on hard ground, this can result in trauma to the laminae and the onslaught of horse laminitis.
  • Think carefully what wormers or drugs are prescribed for your horse or pony.  Injecting short acting corticosteroids into joints can cause severe laminitis.
  • Keep stress to a minimum.

Well, I could go on and on, because the subject of Horse Laminitis is vast.   Hopefully I have covered enough so that more of us can be a little more informed about this horrible condition and work towards preventing such attacks.

If you would like to know a little more about what we do at Hivron Horse Haven then click here to visit our site.    We cater for horse laminitis cases, our ground and system lends itself very well to the condition.

Thank you for reading my  my blog I hope you have enjoyed it and found it informative.  Please contact me if I can help with any questions, you can find all your answers to queries about Horse Laminitis by following the links above.

Best Wishes,

Rachel Holman




About Rachel Holman

I started Hivron Horse Haven in 2004. We specialise in the care of retired, box rested, convalescing and resting horses and ponies. We are based in the beautiful countryside of the Mid Wales border. I also market horse related products and country wear.
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