By: Katie Jones, CVT
Laminitis can be career ending or even life-threatening, causing deep seated fears in many horse owners. With continued research and the development of new treatment techniques, many cases have been resolved before life altering decisions had to be made. What is this condition? What can be done as horse owners to prevent the development of a laminitic episode?
Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae. The bones in the hoof are suspended within the hoof capsule by modified skin cells known as laminae (lamellae). The relationship between the laminae, bone, and hoof capsule is very similar to Velcro when fastened together. One end of the laminae is attached to the bone while the other is attached to the hoof wall. When working correctly, this relationship forms a shock absorber during a horse’s movements. When inflammation occurs in this delicate support system, it damages the integrity of this crucial bond. This leads to bone and soft tissue damage within the hoof and cuts off the laminae blood supply. Laminitis most commonly occurs in the front feet, but can also affect the hinds.
Laminitis can be triggered by numerous causes ranging from environmental factors to metabolic or systemic diseases. The predominant causes of laminitis are: metabolic or systemic in origin from excessive intake of lush green grass, Cushing’s disease, insulin resistance, secondary to infection, or excessive administration of specific drugs (corticosteroids); environmental factors such as grain engorgement; or mechanical factors such as excessive weight bearing on one limb due to a severe injury on the opposite leg. Lush pastures trigger laminitic episodes when the amount of sugar builds up in the blades on warm days with cool nights during optimal growing conditions. The sugar then triggers a metabolic event, stressing body and may result in laminitis.
There are vast inconsistencies in the progression and outcomes between horses in laminitic cases. Some will progress from barely lame to the hoof bone (coffin bone) rotating through the hoof sole rather quickly. Part of the variation lies in the individual animal as well as eating habits and metabolic issues. It is difficult to know which horses, when looking at them clinically, will progress to be more severely affected.
If your horse is exhibiting signs of laminitis, it needs to be treated as an emergency. Early intervention is critical and can dramatically reduce the likelihood of the laminitis progressing. A veterinarian will create a specific treatment plan for each individual case and it will be dictated by the progression of the disease. Treatment options may include: applying cushioned frog support, changing their diet, pain management practices, anti-inflammatories of various mechanisms, and limiting their exercise to stall rest.
If a joint effort between a veterinarian and a farrier is established with early treatment, laminitis will not always be a devastating disease. With early detection and good management practices laminitic episodes can resolve, returning the horse to normal daily functions.