Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

Laminitis in Horses

With horses weighing up to 2,200 pounds, it’s no surprise that proper hoof care is vital to your pony’s long-term health. Aside from regular cleaning with a hoof pick and routine farrier care every 6-8 weeks, maintaining your horse’s hoof health starts from within. With a proper diet, he will be better able to support the heavy weight of his body.

What is laminitis?

When horses begin to gain too much weight or have repeated concussions to their feet without regular farrier care, laminitis and founder in horses can be a result. “By definition, laminitis in horses is inflammation of the hoof lamina, the anatomic structures that essentially allow the horse to bear weight on his hoof and support his bony structure,” says expert Dr. Chris Downs, owner of Chicago Equine Medical Center and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Laminitis in horses can have many causes, such as repetitive stress to the hooves from trimming them too short, or repeatedly jumping or exercising your horse on hard ground. A horse’s diet can play a part, as well. Similar to human fingernails, horse hooves are made of protein, so horse care and diet directly impact your four-legged friend’s feet. Supplements such as AniMed Professional Strength Remission Horse Supplement are a great addition to your horse’s regular diet to help relieve inflammation that can lead to laminitis and founder in horses. Additionally, limiting carbohydrates that can turn to sugar in your horse’s feed help as a preventative.

What’s the difference between laminitis in horses and horse founder?

Downs explains, “Laminitis is the first stage of the process that may culminate as founder in the horse. If enough of the lamina becomes so damaged that the coffin bone can move with respect to the hoof wall or the hoof capsule, that, by definition, is founder.” Because laminitis is the precursor to a foundered horse, it is incredibly important to have a conversation with your veterinarian and farrier if you suspect that your horse may be exhibiting signs of laminitis. Laminitis can be present without founder, but a foundered horse will always have laminitis.

What are the symptoms of laminitis and of a foundered horse?

Both founder in horses and laminitis will cause an affected horse to stand parked out and not want to bear weight on the affected limbs due to the discomfort and pain originating between the hoof and the hoof wall. According to Downs, “[Clinical signs to look for if you think your horse may be experiencing either condition would be] reluctance to walk, increased digital pulses or heat in the hooves. More often laminitis occurs in the front feet, so, the classic pose is a horse that stands with his hind feet way up under his belly because he’s actually sitting back and trying to take weight off of his front feet. He will park out with his front feet and look like he is standing more on his heels in the front, keeping his toe off the ground, and rocking back onto his hindquarters.”

Most horses with laminitis or founder will appear very sore, or lame. A lame horse is any horse that shows abnormality in his movement. Being aware of what is normal for your horse is the best way to detect any gait changes that may point to a lame horse. “A horse should travel symmetrically and evenly, so even though most people would say that lameness is a horse limping, we are trying to intervene before it ever gets to that point,” says Downs.

Because laminitis and horse founder will look the same, involve your veterinarian and farrier immediately. If you are seeing clinical signs, it’s important to develop an aggressive treatment plan to prevent possible laminitis from proceeding to founder. Having an honest conversation with horse care professionals and exploring medication options will allow you to better assess what movement is normal for your horse, or what may be a symptom of a more serious health condition. 

What can be done to prevent laminitis in horses and horse founder?

“The preventative aspects of [laminitis] include proper nutrition and diet, proper body condition and proper farrier care,” Downs advises. By knowing your horse’s healthy weight for his breed and size (and keeping him at it), you not only decrease the risk of developing hoof issues but also promote his overall health.

Most importantly, remember that there is no one diet or health care plan that will work for every horse. Know what is normal for your horse’s movement, weight, diet and body type, be aware of any changes, and discuss them with your horse’s care team if they arise.

Dr. Chris Downs does not endorse individual supplements, vendors or products. Any reference in this article to specific supplements, vendors or products does not constitute or imply the endorsement, recommendation or approval of Dr. Downs or Chicago Equine Medical Center.

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