Laminitis is an extremely painful condition that can affect any horse, pony, donkey or mule. Laminitis is always a veterinary emergency and you should contact your vet immediately if you suspect your horse might have the condition. There is sometimes a belief that laminitis is only a risk during springtime, or when grass is actively growing, but episodes can occur all year round and we need to remain vigilant and maintain preventative management throughout the year.

Beautiful foal named after inspirational veteran Captain Tom Moore - World Horse Welfare

Not just a springtime condition

The complex inflammatory responses which cause laminitis can be triggered by a variety of events or conditions. Such responses can certainly occur after carbohydrate overload, for example your horse pigging out on spring grass, but it can also occur in very sick animals with body-wide septic infections, such as complications after surgery or a retained placenta. Laminitis can also be a risk in cases where the horse is unable to bear weight on one limb, as the opposite foot will be bearing so much more weight than it should do.

However, the most common cause of laminitis is an underlying metabolic condition which can be triggered at any time of year. How we manage our horses and ponies, particularly in terms of their diet and exercise, plays a crucial role.

What are the signs of laminitis?

It is vital to recognise the symptoms of laminitis so that treatment can begin quickly, giving your horse or pony the best chance for a recovery but, initially, many of the symptoms can be rather vague. A recent study showed that vets confirmed laminitis every time an owner suspected their horse/pony had it, so do call your vet if you suspect laminitis. Symptoms include:

• Strong/bounding digital pulses felt at the back of the fetlock

• Reluctance to walk forward

• Difficulty making a tight turn

• Excessive heat in the feet

• Shifting weight from foot to foot when at rest

• Lameness, stiffness, or a short, stilted or pottery walk, especially on hard ground

How can I guard against laminitis?

When it comes to laminitis, the old saying that “prevention is better than cure” is very true. Two large studies funded by World Horse Welfare have identified three important risk factors:

  • Recent weight gain
  • A prior history of laminitis
  • Foot soreness after shoeing/ trimming

Making sure your horse or pony is the right weight is really important when it comes to preventing laminitis – as is avoiding unintentional weight gain. It can be really difficult to notice our horses gaining weight when we see them every day, which is why regular weight monitoring and fat scoring are so important.

Since horses and ponies which have had laminitis previously are at a significantly increased risk of suffering further bouts, being vigilant in your management to prevent your horse from suffering an attack in the first place really is the best way to protect them.

There is evidence that horses/ponies that went more than eight weeks between being shod or trimmed were more likely to develop laminitis. Maintaining a regular foot care routine will not only keep the feet in good condition, it can also help you and your farrier notice if there is any subtle foot pain

Remember, if you suspect your horse might have laminitis, please call your vet first. Early recognition and prompt veterinary and farriery care can assist recovery and return to soundness.

You can check out World Horse Welfare’s laminitis advice page www.worldhorsewelfare/laminitis where you will find links to videos on how to measure your horse’s pulse, as well as a playlist of Laminitis Awareness videos covering a variety of areas including weigh taping and condition scoring. You can also download a laminitis leaflet for more information on causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention of laminitis and on-going management of horses that have previously suffered from it.

For more information visit give World Horse Welfare’s Advice Line a call during office hours on +44 (0)1953 497 238.