With such potentially devastating consequences, it’s no surprise that laminitis is one of the most talked about and researched conditions affecting horses and ponies. Whilst managing as many of the risk factors as possible remains the best strategy for prevention, being able to spot an attack early maximises your horse or pony’s the chance of recovery.
Risk factors for nutritionally induced laminitis include:
- Genetics e.g. native breeds or being a pony
- Recent weight gain & obesity, particularly in horses and ponies with a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 7 or above
- Regional fat deposits including a cresty neck
- PPID (Cushing’s)
- A history of laminitis
- High intakes of starch (cereal grains are high in starch) and/ or sugar including fructan, the storage form of sugar in grass and other forages
- Insulin dysregulation which may or may not involve insulin resistance
What is insulin dysregulation?
The exact link between abnormalities in insulin regulation and laminitis remains unclear. A high level of insulin in the blood (hyperinsulinemia) is not always accompanied by insulin resistance (failure of cells to respond to insulin). Insulin dysregulation, which includes both high blood insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and/ or insulin resistance, is now recognised as being a risk factor for laminitis.
Signs of acute laminitis (sudden/ initial attack) include:
- Weight shifting
- Changes in gait – shorter stride, ‘pottery’ movement
- Reluctance move to turn
- Abnormal stance. Most horse owners will have seen pictures of the ‘classic laminitic stance’ adopted in an attempt to relieve pressure on the forefeet but how the horse or pony stands will depend on the severity of laminitis and which feet are affected. In fact, if all 4 feet are affect the horse or pony may stand normally.
- A strong/ bounding digital pulse
- Hot feet
- Signs of pain such as sweating and increased pulse, temperature and respiration rates (which may be mistaken for signs of colic)
- Refusal to move or stand in severe cases
Tip: Although most common in the forefeet, laminitis can affect only one foot, all four feet or the hind feet only.
Subtle signs can be easily missed!
In mild cases, signs of lameness or discomfort can be hard to spot and may be as subtle as a slight shortening of stride, 'footiness' on stoney ground', mild stiffness or reluctance to turn on hard ground. These cases may not respond to hoof testers and a change in stance is unlikely.
Although hot feet can be a sign of laminitis, they are not always the most reliable indicator. Hoof temperature fluctuates and if your horse has been stood outside in the height of summer, hot feet is not necessarily a concern. However hot feet for prolonged periods or on a cold day and/ or heat in one or two feet only should raise suspicion.
Being able to identify signs of chronic laminitis is key to successful management. These include:
- Abnormal hoof growth, in particular faster growth at the heel than the toe
- Laminitic hoof rings which are often wider at the heel than the toe
- Thin and/ or bruised soles
- Convex or dropped soles
- Bruising or blood in the white line
- Stretched white line
- Cracked and or ‘flared’ hoof walls
- Change in the hoof wall angle
- Rotation of the pedal bone (shown by x-ray)
For advice on managing horses and ponies prone to laminitis contact the SPILLERS Care-line