Laminitis Symptoms and Prevention
As horse lovers, we naturally want our animals to be as healthy and content as possible. Many of us may even put their health second only to that of our family.
We feed, wash, brush, and exercise our horses. Of course, we also want to tend to their medical needs so they don’t suffer physically.
In the Bluegrass, we have a number of diseases with the potential to make horses very ill, or even cause death. But, proper care can go a long way toward keeping our horses happy and healthy.
Many of the more common equine diseases we have to deal with in Kentucky—including West Nile Virus, Encephalomyelitis (both East and West), rabies, and tetanus—are best prevented through vaccinations.
While any of these diseases is potentially fatal, proper vaccinations will generally prevent your horse from contracting them.
Laminitis is one of the most painful equine diseases. There is no vaccination against laminitis, so horse owners must be vigilant about protecting their horses from this potentially debilitating hoof disease.
Laminitis is characterized by inflammation and deterioration of the laminae, which form a bond between the coffin bone and the inner layer of the hoof wall.
If not treated early enough, tenderness can turn into severe pain as the laminae no longer support the coffin bone. This bone can then rotate downward, causing significant pain.
If the condition worsens, the coffin bone can sink through the hoof and actually protrude through the sole of the foot. Arteries and veins in the hoof have suffered damage at this point.
Treatment and recovery may still be possible if laminitis reaches this stage, although the process is lengthy and expensive, and must be monitored carefully.
If left untreated, laminitis can cause painful and irreversible damage requiring euthanasia.
Laminitis symptoms to watch for
To catch and treat laminitis as early as possible, horse owners need to be aware of any changes in their horse’s behavior or actions.
A change in your horse’s gait may be one of the first signs you notice he is suffering. He may walk tenderly, or place his heels first, rather than his toes. Continually shifting his weight back and forth may indicate laminitis as well.
A hard crest can also signal laminitis. In addition, you may also notice growth rings around the hoof wall, indicating past problems with laminitis.
As symptoms worsen, he may not want to move, much less get up or walk. If the front hooves are affected, he may put more weight on his hind feet when standing, so as to minimize pressure on the front feet.
If laminitis reaches the point where the coffin bones sink through the hooves, your horse may stand with all four feet together, resembling a circus elephant standing on a stool. This is known as a “founder stance”.
Steps to prevent laminitis
Much about laminitis is still not understood. However, research has shown that this disease has several potential causes. These include obesity, excess consumption of sugars and starches, trauma to the hoof (such as overworking), and even stress.
To help prevent laminitis in your horse, you should take several precautions. First of all, carefully monitor his diet to avoid overindulgence on lush grasses. Current theories hold that an excess of carbohydrates from feeding on grass leads to over-acidity in the horse’s body, which then causes inflammation, especially in the laminae of his hooves.
It’s best to follow prescribed feeding guidelines to ensure proper nutrition. If you have any questions about best practices when feeding, contact us at Winchester Feed and we’ll be glad to help. We also carry a full line of supplements to help promote healthy hoof growth.
Be sure to have a qualified farrier tend to your horse’s feet on a routine basis. He or she can also help you spot early signs of laminitis.
In addition, put your horse on a good exercise regimen to help keep him at a healthy weight. Check with your veterinarian or trainer if you need guidance in this area.
Don’t overwork your horse, especially on hard ground. The horse’s sheer weight, plus the forces of movement, place enormous stress on his hooves. Extended working on hard surfaces compounds this stress.
The bottom line—check your horse’s feet regularly, and if you notice any signs of tenderness, have your vet check him as soon as possible.