May 10, 2011
Every spring we see new and continued cases of recurring laminitis. Horses seem to be more sensitive to laminitis than any other species. Laminitis has been defined as any inflammation within the laminae of the hoof. Laminae are the Velcro like substance which hold the hoof capsule onto the coffin bone. This is a very painful disease because when the laminae start to swell, the inflamation is in between bone on one side and hoof wall on the other. Too much swelling and you have a decreased blood supply to the laminae leading to its death. When the laminae become too weak, the coffin bone either rotates, sinks, or even sloughs the entire hoof capsule (pictured here). Although laminitis occurs in the feet, the underlying cause is often a disturbance elsewhere in the horse's body.
Many horses are more prone to laminitis because of obesity, high carbohydrate diets, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), equine Cushing's disease (ECD) and especially excessive calories. Every spring as the grass becomes green and begins to grow, we see laminitis. Horses will literally eat themselves to death if left with excessive feed. How many calories are our horses consuming per day when left on pasture? Do we know the types of grasses and amounts of alfalfa and clover that may be growing in our pastures? How fertile is the ground that our pastures are grown on and when was it last fertilized? How much acreage is in the pasture and how many animals does it support? How is temperature and rainfall amount affecting the rate of growth? You can quickly see that these questions are not always easily answered.
To introduce horses to pasture, begin with short amounts of time and slowly increase turn out duration. Feed the horses hay before turning them out. Pasture is safer in the afternoons during spring because the sugar levels are lower in the grass. This is the opposite in fall when it is safer to turn out in the morning. Dr. Minnemeyer wrote a nice piece in our "Ask the Vet" on how to safely start pasture turn out.
Laminitis is considered an emergency. The longer the process has been going on the more permanent the damage to the laminae. Horses should be treated immediately no matter the time or day.
Stop all grain and remove the horse from pasture at the first sign of a problem. Call your veterinarian ASAP. Do not force any exercise. Allow the horse to lie down to take weight off of the hooves if it will do so.
Laminitis may affect only one foot or any combination of the four. Most often, both front feet are affected. The horse may show reluctance to move, and often develops a saw horse stance. Trying to reduce weight on the front, the rear legs are shifted forward to bear more weight. The front legs are extended further forward than normal. The horse may be warm and the digital pulses are increased or bounding. The horse may be very reluctant to having its hooves picked up.
Please call Conley and Koontz Equine Hospital if you have any questions o concerns about the health of your horse.