Kate Hore RNutr(Animal). Snr Nutritionist at NAF
One of the most widely known problems in horses and ponies alike, is laminitis. We are all familiar with the tilted stance of a laminitic, but the physical causes of this problem are many and varied.
It is a suffix which denotes inflammation, meaning that laminitis is quite simply inflammation of the laminae, delicate structures between the hoof wall and the internal bony structures of the hoof. Technically laminitis can be classified as one of three types: Overload, Inflammatory and Metabolic.
- Overload laminitis is relatively uncommon and is as a result of injury or trauma to one leg, resulting in overloading of weight onto another, such as a horse with a leg injury being stabled or cross tied to reduce movement.
- Inflammatory Laminitis is the one we see most commonly, caused by hindgut disruption due to excessive starch intake, be that from concentrate feeding or lush grazing.
- Metabolic laminitis is linked to PPID and EMS, and related to a lack of control over the carbohydrate metabolism of the body.
Varying causes of laminitis mean that there is the need to treat each case suitable to the cause, however the effects of inflamed laminae are the same. The sensitive laminae suffer reduced blood flow, thereby effectively starving the area of oxygen, which, if left unresolved, will mean necrosis of the area. Because the pedal bone relies on integrity of the laminae to prevent rotation, this is why we sometimes see rotation and even founder, if laminitis isn’t rapidly rectified.
Acute cases of laminitis has a rapid onset and is frequently related to overload of starchy carbohydrates, where chronic cases are more often linked to metabolic issues and are essentially almost constant relapses. This will show as growth rings on the horse’s hooves, and the animal will require careful management and potentially medicating to help reduce the pain and the underlying metabolic causes.
Horses and ponies are both susceptible, despite our image of the small fat pony with cresty neck, even dressage warmbloods can be affected by laminitis. Diet is very important in supporting the prevention of laminitis in all horses, avoiding starchy foods in favour of high fibre will help. Do remember though that restricting grazing can result in dietary imbalance so work with you vet to ensure a happy medium. Corrective farriery can make significant difference, particularly in cases where hoof growth has changed or pedal rotation has occurred. It is important to also remember that laminitis can affect any hoof, though is more commonly found in the front. Veterinary intervention may be needed if the cause is metabolic, with underlying PPID or EMS being a significant risk factor, but there are now many options available to suit your animals needs.