By Vet Selina Squarotti
Laminitis is a very common and painful inflammatory condition of the equine foot. It is characterised by a separation of the sensitive tissues (laminae), which connect the pedal bone with the hoof wall within the foot.
The main causes of laminitis are mechanical overload (excess weight bearing), carbohydrate overload, inflammatory (septicaemia, acute colitis) and endocrinopathic (EMS, Cushing’s disease). Endocrinopathic laminitis comprises 90% of cases overall and is particularly an issue in overweight ponies and horses, with a higher incidence at time of lush pasture growth.
Laminitis is characterised by acute onset of lameness. Laminitic horses tend to assume the classical ‘saw-horse’ stance, with both front feet stretched forward and the hind limbs under the body. Front feet tend to be affected more commonly, but in severe cases all four might be involved.
The horse is likely to show signs of pain, such as high respiratory and heart rates, inappetance, reluctance to move and pottery gait. The feet might feel warm and reveal an increased digital pulse.
Treatment of acute laminitis involves pain relief, anxiolytics and strategies to reduce stresses on the affected foot: removal of shoes, deep supportive bedding, wrap the affected foot with ice (especially in cases of sepsis), placement of foot supports and strict box rest with soft even surface.
After the initial acute episode, management should focus on frequent farriery visits to avoid long toes and support the heel, and weight management. Once recovered the horse should begin regular exercise to improve mobility and encourage weight loss.
Since the majority of cases are endocrinopathic and therefore a direct consequence of metabolic diseases such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and/or Cushing’s disease (PPID), laminitis could potentially be prevented by maintaining the horse on a healthy weight range and prompt diagnosis of any potential metabolic disorder with metabolic testing of any ‘at risk’ horse.