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Looking after your horse 

Laminitis is a painful and potentially crippling disease that can be fatal. An animal may have to be humanely destroyed if the effects of the disease have become so serious that it is inhumane to continue to attempt further treatment.

The hoof wall is made up of an interlinked outer insensitive layer (horn) supported by an underlying inner sensitive layer (laminae). In laminitis, the blood flow to the laminae is affected, resulting in inflammation and swelling in the tissues within the hoof and severe pain. As the laminae are starved of oxygen and nutrient rich blood, the cells become damaged. Unless the cause is removed and treatment is started immediately on first signs of the condition, the sensitive laminae begin to die.

The laminae are responsible for supporting the pedal bone in the hoof and thus the weight of the animal. In severe cases of laminitis the pedal bone can sink and rotate due to the inability of the damaged laminae to support it and from the pull of the deep digital flexor tendon. If the pedal bone sinks too far it can be seen to protrude from the sole of the foot. In many cases this is irreversible, however, some cases can be cured, although this requires a lot of time, patience and money.

Laminitis can affect any of the feet but is more commonly seen in the front feet. Any horse or pony can be affected by laminitis.

For animals suffering acute laminitis symptoms generally come on very suddenly and are severe.

The horse will show an inability or reluctance to walk or move and may possibly lie down, displaying an unwillingness to get up. The horse will be visibly lame especially when moving on a circle or on a hard surface, and will have an increased digital pulse in the foot.

The horse, when standing, may well lean back on to its hind feet in order to relieve the pressure on its front feet. The horse will have pain in front of the point of frog and when walking may place its heels down first rather than its toes. There can also be symptoms shown vaguely similar to colic.

Chronic laminitis

A horse with chronic laminitis will show signs of ongoing symptoms that are generally a result of a relapse from previous attacks.

The horse’s hoof will have the appearance of growth rings around the hoof wall, which generally indicates that it has suffered from laminitis in the past. However, these should not be confused with hoof rings, which are due to changes in nutrition or to stress.

The heel will often grow faster than the toe and the white line in the hoof will have widened. The horse may well have a large crest, which runs along its neckline.

Treatment

If a horse or pony displays these symptoms it is important to call a vet immediately and follow treatment plans carefully. Correct treatment needs to be administered as soon as possible to prevent any lasting damage to the feet and provide pain relief.

It is advisable to move the horse or pony to a smaller pen/stable and bed the area down with a deep bed of shavings, cardboard or sand. The bedding needs to be able to mould into the hoof and around the frog to provide support.

It is important to remove any feed, including molassed licks, but always ensure that fresh clean water is provided. It is also vitally important that the horse is not starved due to predisposition to hyperlipaemia in obese ponies. The vet will be able to advise on a suitable diet.

In order to minimise stress to the laminitic horse, make sure that it has a companion nearby. Stress can be a contributory factor to laminitis so it is vital that your horse is placed in an environment where it feels comfortable.

Horse owners should not be tempted to stand horses or ponies suffering from laminitis in a stream or to cold hose their hooves. Although it may initially make the animal more comfortable, prolonged cold will make the condition worse.