HorseHage & Mollichaff Helpline – 01803 527274

Spring 2012

Cassie’s Column (Spring 2012)

Spring through Spring avoiding Laminitis!

With spring here and the grass shooting up, we thought it would be a good idea to offer some tips on laminitis.

What is laminitis?
Laminitis is the inflammation of the sensitive laminae in the foot causing severe pain for horses and ponies of all types – not just ponies, as many people incorrectly think. The laminae are found in the foot and are attachments of the pedal bone to the hoof wall. The inflammation of these laminae weakens the bond between the hoof wall and the pedal bone. In some cases this can cause rotation of the pedal bone. In worst cases, weight from the body pushing down on this may also cause ‘sinking’ of the pedal bone.Therefore laminitis is a veterinary emergency!

What causes Laminitis?
Current research is now showing that 95% of laminitis is due to an underlying hormone problem – Equine Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance) and Equine Cushings Disease.

When equines are overweight, they can develop insulin resistance because of excess fat stored in the body. There are a few factors that trigger or worsen this condition:



David with Farrier

Xray of David’s foot

Taking a digital pulse

Lush Grass
Horses and ponies gorging on lush grass are at high risk of becoming ‘laminitic’. During the spring months in particular the sugar content of the grass is at its highest creating a danger zone for our four-legged friends! Although in some cases our fields may look bare – these small shoots coming up are packed full of sugar. This insulin resistance combined with this sugar/carbohydrate overload causes a disruption of metabolism, triggering the onset of laminitis.


Restrict grazing – to limit the intake of sugar/carbohydrate
Keep exercising – to mobilise fat reserves and increase blood flow to the feet
Always feed products bearing the ‘HoofKind’ logo – these are low in carbohydrate/sugar and are safe for horses and ponies prone to laminitis and ‘good doers’ at risk from the disease.
Use a grazing muzzle to restrict intake.


Equine Cushings Syndrome
This is a condition caused by an over production of the Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH). This is a central hormone affecting lots of areas of the body and is used for many processes. Therefore over production of this hormone shows many different signs – but one of the main issues is the effect on the laminae in the feet. Cushings is a common cause of laminitis in horses and ponies usually older than sixteen but younger cases have been diagnosed.

This is often found to be the case when owners are doing all they can to prevent laminitis but it keeps coming back for no explained reason.


If laminitis keeps recurring even though you have good preventative measurements in place ask your vet for advice on Cushing’s.
Look out for the following signs associated with Cushing’s:
Curly coat
Not shedding winter coat
Excessive drinking
Excessive urinating
Patchy Sweating
Cushings is a condition that once diagnosed can be managed – David suffers from Cushings and you probably wouldn’t know this unless we told you!

There are also other ‘rarer’ causes of laminitis which may be diagnosed and advised on by your vet, but we will just focus on the metabolic and food associated conditions.

Laminitis – What to Look Out for
The following symptoms indicate a possibility of laminitis and require veterinary attention!

Heat in the hoof
Check by placing your hand over the hoof wall and compare with a field companion

Increased Digital Pulse
The digital pulse is found at the either the back of the fetlock or the pastern – see photo. Applying light pressure allows you to feel the pulse as the blood is pumped through the palmer digital artery. Often with laminitis the digital pulse is increased and will feel strong under your fingers

‘Rocking stance’
You may witness the pony rocking backward taking the weight off the front feet.

Shifting weight
Alternating the weight bearing on the feet to relieve pain.

Lying Down
Increased lying down, again taking the weight off the feet.

Looking dull/depressed/loss of appetite
Combined with the above – this is also a sign of laminitis

And the obvious one……..

Horse with laminitis will be reluctant to move and in particular take tight turns as well as not allowing you to pick up the feet. A first sign of laminitis may be a very slight lameness.

If at any time you suspect laminitis take the following action…

Contact your veterinary surgeon for a same day appointment.
Take the horse/pony into a stable/restricted space.
Create a deep/comfy bed for them.
Do not offer any feed with a high sugar content – not even a carrot to cheer them up!

What will happen and what’s the outcome?
Once laminitis has been diagnosed and any underlying reasons ruled out – the vet will often remove the shoes and pad up the feet to provide comfort. Your horse or pony may be given medication to relieve pain and inflammation and increase the blood supply to the foot.

In some cases, x-rays of the feet may be required to examine pedal bone position and your vet may then work with your farrier to provide a trimming and shoeing solution. Treated early and managed correctly, laminitics can live a normal life with no issues. However prevention is better than treatment for laminitis!
At this point you should also contact your feed company for advice on feeding the laminitic.

To finalise here are our top tips for laminitis prevention…

Manage grazing and grass intake.
Always feed a low calorie ‘HoofKind’ feed product for those at risk.
Condition score your animal – regularly check the weight and liaise with a nutritionist if concerned.
Keep in regular exercise where possible.
Regular farriery is also essential – your farrier can often pick up early signs.
Don’t be afraid to call your vet, even for advice if you are suspicious or want more information.
Check your grass daily and keep a look for lush shoots coming through.
Don’t forget laminitis can occur all year round! So don’t let your guard down – keep a look out for frosty grass too! (When the grass is frozen/frosty the fructose/sugar content is high. This is because the morning sunshine will be causing the grass to photosynthesize and produce carbohydrates, but the cold temperature will prevent the grass from actually growing – therefore the fructose/sugar will be stored as reserve carbohydrate creating rich high energy shoots).

Working closely with your horse’s team (vet, farrier, nutritionist and feed merchant) is crucial when caring for a laminitic.

We hope that this is some help and that your horses and ponies stay laminitis free and you are able to enjoy the lovely weather with them.

Cassie, David the Pony & Simon Woods MRCVS