What Are The Early Signs Of Laminitis?

What Are The Early Signs Of Laminitis?

Laminitis is a condition that is seen in the hooves and can take hold due to a range of circumstances, such as obesity, hormonal imbalances, and injury. Laminitis is painful and can limit your horse’s movement, and quality of life in general. In severe cases, it can be life-altering for the horse or even fatal so it should be taken seriously and any early signs acted upon quickly. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the early signs of laminitis to look out for, and how to manage a laminitic horse.

What is laminitis?

Laminitis is a condition that causes the horse’s laminae – the tissues within the hooves – to become damaged and potentially disconnect from the pedal bone allowing it to rotate in the hoof capsule. Laminitis can be caused by a few different issues, such as:

  • Diet: If your horse is overconsuming carbohydrate-heavy feeds, like grains and lush pasture, this can result in an unhealthy digestive system, and as a result, trigger laminitis.
  • Obesity: A horse is more at risk of laminitis if they are overweight and chronic obesity can cause hormonal changes which are also causes of laminitis. Excessive weight can increase the risk of pedal bone rotation also known as founder if the bone penetrates the sole of the hoof.
  • Endocrine disorders: Hormonal imbalances within your horse can also cause laminitis to take hold. Because of this, a horse with PPID and EMS may be at higher risk of developing this condition.
  • Injury: Trauma to the hoof, or prolonged weight-bearing on one limb can also cause laminitis.

What are the early signs?

It’s crucial that you know what to look for in your horse in terms of the behaviour they’re presenting that may indicate they are suffering from laminitis, and early detection will allow you to manage the issue promptly. The sooner action is taken the less severe the symptoms are likely to be and the greater the chance of a full recovery.

One of the ways in which you can tell if your horse is suffering from laminitis is to check its digital pulse. This can be felt on the fetlock of the hoof you believe may be affected. An elevated pulse may indicate inflammation and therefore point to possible laminitis. As well as this, the hoof may feel hotter than usual.

Your horse may show a variety of behaviours if they have laminitis. For example, they may have a reluctance to walk, or even move at all. They will exhibit signs of discomfort, which will be exacerbated when walking on a hard surface. You may also notice your horse shifting its weight to the hindquarters to relieve pressure on the most commonly affected front hooves. When your horse walks, you may notice they have short, choppy strides, as well as walking gingerly. If you notice your horse has altered its gait, this may point to discomfort and possible laminitis.

As well as monitoring how your horse is moving, you should also be aware of the shape of your horse’s hooves. Changes in hoof shape, for example, increased hoof angle, or widened white line could indicate your horse is suffering from this condition. Check your horse’s hooves regularly and be aware of the hoof showing signs of distortion or changing shape.

Managing a laminitic horse

If you believe your horse is suffering from laminitis, there are a few factors to consider when it comes to managing the problem. Firstly, you should ensure that your horse’s diet is made up of high-fibre and low-sugar forage. Limit feeding your horse-rich pasture as this is high in sugar which can contribute to weight gain and laminitis itself.  Soaking forage can help to reduce sugar content but is very variable in effectiveness –greater water-to-hay ratio and warmer water increase the amount of sugar that is removed.  You should also provide low-starch, low-sugar feeds that are formulated for horses with metabolic issues. A balanced diet is also important for repairing damaged tissues. Balancers and supplements are low-sugar options for providing essential nutrients. ,

If your horse is turned out, consider using a grazing muzzle to limit grass intake – this means your horse can benefit from being outside without you having to worry about their intake of lush grass. As well as this, be sure to monitor your horse’s weight. If your horse is overweight, weight loss is advantageous, and consulting with your vet or nutritionist will allow you to create an exercise and diet plan to suit your horse.


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