HomeExpert AdviceArticleThe signs of laminitis all owners need to know

The signs of laminitis all owners need to know

Fig. 1: Cross-section of a healthy horse’s hoof. Fig. 2: Cross-section of a laminitic horse’s hoof.

Join vet Marcus Bennett from Boehringer Ingelheim as he guides you through spotting the signs and symptoms of laminitis – just in time for the spring grass

The above diagram shows what’s happening inside a horse’s hooves when he’s developing laminitis – but would you know how to spot the signs outside your horse’s hooves? 

Laminitis is one of the most common conditions affecting horses in the UK. It’s a debilitating and painful condition that affects the hoof, where the hoof wall begins to separate from the bone underneath. It can be very difficult to treat and, in severe cases, sometimes requires euthanasia. The early signs of laminitis can be challenging to spot but, if it’s caught early, action can be taken to slow, or even stop, the disease.

A recent survey of horse owners found that 45% didn’t recognise the signs of laminitis in their horses. It’s important to know that the early signs of laminitis vary from mild to severe, and the mild form can quickly progress to severe if untreated. This means it’s crucial to keep a close eye on your horse and to contact your vet if you spot any signs of laminitis.

Spotting the signs

There are three groups of signs that owners should monitor their horse’s for – severe signs, mild signs and early indicators. 

Mild signs include footiness after a farrier visit or a change in gait when moving from soft to hard ground. Severe signs include rocking back to put the weight on the hindlegs, more time spent lying down or a reluctance to move.

It’s also a good idea to monitor your horse for early indicators of laminitis, too. These include divergent hoof rings (where the space between the growth rings is wider at the heel than the toe) and raised pulses in the digital artery. Spotting these early indicators promptly gives you the opportunity to work with your vet to introduce management changes and try to avoid a painful episode of laminitis. You can download a checklist to monitor your horse for signs of laminitis here.

The next step

What happens once you’ve identified the signs of laminitis? Your vet will work with you to treat the episode and, once the pain is under control, may suggest testing for hormonal diseases, which are present in 94% laminitis cases. The most common underlying hormonal diseases in cases of laminitis are equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and Equine Cushing’s disease (also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction or PPID). Horses with PPID have been shown to have five times the risk of developing laminitis. Identifying whether your horse has a hormonal disease is important because treating this disease can significantly reduce your horse’s risk of developing future episodes of laminitis.

Care About Cushing’s provides a nationwide diagnostic testing scheme for Equine Cushing’s disease – to find out more about laminitis, Equine Cushing’s disease, and the testing scheme, visit careaboutcushings.co.uk

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