Spring is on the way. The fields are already beginning to green-up and horses that have spent the winter indoors will soon be turned out. Abundant grazing is welcomed by most horse owners and their equines, but for some it can spell big trouble. Laminitis has long been associated with the emergence of spring grass. The condition affects all types of horses and ponies, and most commonly afflicts the front feet.
Laminitis is a painful condition affecting the sensitive laminae within the horse’s foot. Inflammation and swelling of the tissues within the hoof interrupts the blood supply and the tissues are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Cells become damaged and in advanced cases, the laminae actually die.
In severe cases of laminitis, the weight-bearing pedal bone within the hoof sinks and rotates. If the condition is left unchecked, the pedal bone may actually pierce the sole at which point humane destruction is usually the kindest option.
Overweight horses are especially prone to developing laminitis. Excesses of sugar-rich spring grass or too much soluble carbohydrate in a horse’s diet can overload the digestive system. Carb-rich starchy material is passed directly through to the hindgut to be broken down by bacteria. Acidic conditions result which kill off the bacteria that process fibre. These dead bacteria break down, releasing toxins into the horse’s gut as they do so. Once the toxins enter the bloodstream, they kick off a response within the horse’s physiology that impacts on the blood flow. If this disruption affects the horse’s feet, laminitis can develop.
Other factors that can trigger attacks of laminitis include stress, foaling, and changes to the horse’s routine or environment. Sometimes a bacterial infection can trigger a stress response that results in a bout of laminitis. Fast work on hard ground resulting in concussion can also cause laminitis. Cushing’s disease in elderly ponies also has laminitis as a side-effect.
- Marked lameness and reluctance to move
- A strong digital pulse in the foot
- Leaning backwards to relieve painful pressure on the front feet
- Walking on the heels first to try to relieve pressure on the front
- Mild colic
Horses that suffer with chronic laminitis will often have growth rings around the hoof wall. The white line will appear wider than normal and the horse may have an unusually cresty topline.
If you suspect that your horse has laminitis, call your vet immediately. Remove the horse from any grazing and place him in a small stable or pen on a deep shavings bed. Keep the horse as stress-free as you can and don’t offer him any feed until your vet has recommended a suitable diet.
Do not cold hose the feet as this could make things worse.
Your vet will probably want to have the horse’s feet x-rayed in order to establish the extent and severity of the laminitis. Remedial farriery may be recommended to help manage the condition.
Never over-feed your horse and always adjust their ration according to the work they are doing and the quality of grazing they have access to. If your horse is a good-doer and prone to gaining weight, keep them on a high fibre, low carb diet. Avoid feeding molassed feeds or treats.
It can be helpful to restrict your horse’s grazing. Night grass contains less soluble carbohydrate than it does during sunlight hours so this could be a solution if your horse is prone to weight gain or bouts of laminitis. Certain types of grass like clover and ryegrass have high sugar content. If possible, stick to growing herbs and coarser grasses on paddocks where susceptible horses will graze.
Laminitis is a dangerous and extremely painful condition. Be aware of the causes and symptoms, and if you are at all concerned that your horse is showing early signs of the condition, always call your vet immediately.
Image source: worldhorsewelfare.org
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