Laminitis in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Laminitis is a frequent health problem affecting horses’ hooves that is usually highly painful and recurrent. It is essential for equine carers to understand the pathophysiology involved in this illness. You should be aware of common therapeutic methods, preventative strategies, and warning signs that your horse may have laminitis.

This tutorial will go over the causes of laminitis in horses, as well as the typical symptoms and indicators of this excruciating ailment and various treatments.

Laminitis in Horses: What is It?

Acute or chronic inflammation and injury to an equine’s laminae is referred to as laminitis. Tissue layers called laminae connect the horse’s coffin (pedal) bone to the interior of the hoof wall. The hoof capsule encloses this bone. The sensitive, or dermal, laminae and the insensitive, or epidermal, laminae, are the two kinds of interlocking laminae.

Cellular damage results from disruption of blood flow to both the sensitive and insensitive laminae during laminitis. Laminitis thus impairs the connection between the coffin bone and the hoof wall. Severe discomfort and lameness may result from the coffin bone breaking off from the hoof wall, rotating, and sinking towards the sole.

While the back feet may also be affected, the front feet are most frequently affected simultaneously by this illness. Laminitis is referred to be “founder” if it persists for an extended period of time and gets severe enough to cause the coffin bone to separate and rotate. It may be observed that there are those who interchangeably refer to “founder” and “laminitis.” Founder, however, indicates a certain degree of severity and pathological state of this illness.

The degree of laminae destruction and the strength of the bone link between the coffin bone and the hoof wall determine how severe the laminitis is. It could be anything from occasional bouts of pain and altered stride to severe discomfort. In the worst situation, it might become a full-blown founder, which would cause excruciating discomfort and lameness.

Three Stages of Laminitis in Horses

Laminitis can occur in three stages: subclinical, acute, and chronic. It is not always the case that this illness advances from subclinical to chronic. Age, underlying medical disorders, therapies, genetics, environmental factors, and preventive actions can all have an impact on how laminitis develops or manifests in a particular person.

Subclinical Laminitis

Microscopic alterations within the laminae are the initial sign of subclinical laminitis. The connective tissue that connects the dermal and epidermal laminae to one another may now undergo cellular death. Signs that are visual and clinical are not yet evident.

Acute Laminitis

The illness has advanced to acute laminitis when the first clinical and noticeable symptoms appear. There is detectable inflammation of the dermal laminae in cases of acute laminitis. When there are visible clinical indications during the initial few days of the disease, most veterinarians classify it as acute laminitis. At this point, there are various degrees of lameness, foot heat, and additional symptoms. At this point, the illness may or may not develop into chronic laminitis, though it frequently does.

Chronic Laminitis

When the illness continues beyond the initial few days of clinical symptoms, it is referred to as chronic laminitis. A common symptom of chronic laminitis in horses is recurring flare-ups. The severity of the illness can have a significant impact on the clinical presentation. At this stage, the laminae and frequently the foot, however, undergo morphological modifications. The condition’s severity can vary from a low-grade, chronic inflammation to a debilitating, excruciatingly painful illness. In the most extreme circumstances, euthanasia may be the most humane choice for horses who experience severe, ongoing discomfort and disability.

Laminitis in Horses: Causes

Regretfully, there are numerous reasons of laminitis that equestrian carers have to deal with. Usually, these factors fall into one of the following three major categories:

Endocrinopathic Laminitis
Supporting Limb Laminitis
Sepsis-Associated Laminitis
Endocrinopathic Laminitis

Equine endocrinopathy laminitis is caused by an underlying endocrine disorder. More and more veterinary professionals and researchers are realising that underlying endocrine disorders are a primary cause of laminitis in horses.

Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), an endocrine system ailment characterised by insulin dysregulation—abnormal glucose and fat metabolism—is one example of such a disorder. Even when provided a proper diet, affected horses usually battle with obesity. These people have a significantly higher chance of developing laminitis. According to a 2023 study on 116 horses in Nigeria, 31.03% of the animals had laminitis, and 61.29% of those cases showed positive equine metabolic syndrome tests.

More than 20% of elderly horses, ponies, and donkeys have pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), often known as equine Cushing’s disease. It is a progressive, neurological, and endocrine condition. Insulin dysregulation is a common symptom of this illness in horses, increasing the likelihood of laminitis in afflicted animals. Researchers discovered in a 2022 study that 32% of the 325 horses with PPID had insulin dysregulation, and that 66% of the horses had laminitis.

Supporting Limb Laminitis

When a horse bears too much weight on the unaffected leg, it can lead to significant lameness in one of its limbs, which can result in supporting limb laminitis (SLL). For instance, compensatory weight shifting onto the left front leg may cause supporting limb laminitis if a horse’s right front leg is so wounded that it is unable to sustain weight on it. Between 10 and 27 percent of horses with non-weight-bearing lameness that lasts for many weeks develop supporting limb laminitis on the leg that is not damaged, according to veterinary researchers. A typical cause of SLL is the formation of an abscess in the hoof, which forces the patient to bear weight compensatorily on the other foot.

In many situations, horses with chronic non-weight bearing injuries develop severe laminitis and founder. According to current theories of SLL, excessive compensatory weight bearing while at rest reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the laminae, which in turn produces harmful inflammation. Unlike the other primary forms of laminitis, SLL usually affects a single leg.

SLL can occur in thoroughbreds more frequently when they sustain a severe unilateral, non-weight-bearing injury. SLL is far more likely to occur in horses who are unable or unwilling to apply intermittent weight to the affected leg during the healing process.

Additionally, it has been noted by researchers that horses with poor hoof health and hooves that exhibit low heel confirmation and long toe are also more susceptible to developing SLL following a unilateral non-weight-bearing injury. Compensatory weight changes during rest leading to SLL can also be caused by extensive or intense exercise on hard surfaces, inappropriate shoeing, and excessive foot trimming.

Sepsis-Associated Laminitis

Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS)-associated laminitis, another name for sepsis-associated laminitis, develops as a secondary inflammatory disease. Colitis, ischemic intestinal injury, pneumonia, black walnut toxicity, and uterine bacterial infection (metritis) are among these ailments. The immune system of the horse produces an excess of proinflammatory reactions within the lamella when sepsis-associated laminitis happens, which can cause major harm.

Moreover, low pH in the hindgut can be caused by consuming fructose or carbs in excess. Large populations of fiber-digesting gut bacteria perish as a result of the low pH of the hindgut (acidosis), which releases toxins that damage cells and triggers an inflammatory response that leads to laminitis.

Laminitis in Horses: Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms listed below may be present in your horse, partially or fully, depending on the degree of laminitis:

noticeable lameness on one or more feet, particularly when moving in a circle or on hard unwillingness or incapacity to walk. Taking a laminitic stance, or leaning back onto the hind feet. Elevate the affected foot’s digital pulse due to inflammation. a consistently warmer-than-average hoof. harm to the sole of the foot. Alteration in the white hoof rings’ development pattern. unwillingness or difficulty rising from a laying position. a solitary projection that signifies sinking and rotation of the coffin bone. alterations to the horse’s gait, which frequently manifest as shorter strides. A dished hoof appears due to an uneven rate of hoof growth.

Laminitis in Horses: Treatments

Treatment plans and prompt veterinarian intervention should be implemented in all cases of laminitis. Laminitis usually develops as a result of an underlying ailment, therefore it’s important to check the horse for a variety of potential diseases and injuries. Your veterinarian may use a variety of interventions, such as the following, depending on the circumstances:

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs, either short- or long-term. Intravenous liquids. If GI distress occurs, mineral oil administered via nasogastric tube. Antibiotics to treat an underlying infection in laminitis linked to sepsis. Vasodilators and anticoagulants to enhance foot blood flow. Abscess drainage and treatment. Diet programmes and long-term medical care with the goal of lowering flare-ups. Both pasturing/stabilizing on softer ground and therapeutic hoof care. avoiding triggers include cutting back on high-intensity exercise and pasturing in regions with high-sugar grass.