Laminitis is a debilitating inflammatory disease that can occur in the hoof of horses and other animals.
The disease isn’t just prevalent in ponies that eat too much grass during spring. Research has found that horses who suffer from Cushing’s disease, treatment with steroids, and exposure to high levels of riding on hard ground can all encourage the onset of laminitis at any time of the year regardless of age or sex.
We all want our horses and ponies to lead long healthy lives so, here, we highlight five key signs that your horse may be suffering from this preventable disease.
1. Poor performance: unwilling to go forward, refusing at jumps
Horses may start to show a reluctance or inability to walk. This may become visibly noticeable on hard ground or when moving in a circle. Your horse may even want to lie down not wanting to get up.
2. Hot hooves and visible hoof damage
You may find that one or more of your horse’s hooves are unusually warm to the touch. Get to know your horse’s feet and what feels and looks normal, which should help you recognise any abnormalities at an early stage. There could be visible signs of damage in the form of differing hoof rings or a stretched white line found in the feet.
3. Shortened stride on hard ground
Horses or ponies may look 'footy' and prefer soft ground to walk on. They may be displaying a shorter, stilted and pottery gait. A quick way of analysing how uncomfortable your horse is on its feet is to walk him in a small circle on hard ground. Horses suffering from laminitis will be very sore on their feet in these circumstances compared to other hoof or leg related problems.
4. Frequent weight swapping from one fore foot to the other
A horse that starts ‘paddling’, swapping his weight from one hoof to the other, more than usual could be a sign of your horse trying to find the least painful stance. He may start shifting his weight back to his haunches and stretch his legs out in front of him in the classic laminitis pose, but depending on which feet are affected the stance will differ from this to: front legs back under the body or back legs forward under body.
5. Increased digital pulse
A strong digital pulse is also an indicator, so get to know what your horse’s normal digital pulse (located at the back of the fetlock) feels like. Also, an increased heart and respiration rate is a clear indication, although their temperature can appear normal. If your horse displays any of these symptoms and you suspect laminitis it is important to seek veterinary advice immediately. Prompt diagnosis and the correct treatment, combined with careful ongoing management and foot care, can make all the difference between a healthy recovery returning to full work and lasting damages. In very severe cases humane termination on the grounds of welfare is the only way to relieve suffering, but thankfully this is only in a small number of cases.
Laminitis is easily prevented and some simple ways to do this is to ensure your horse is not overweight, make sure he is getting regular exercise (assuming the feet are stable), and keep an eye on his diet.
You can also perform daily checks that may involve walking them on hard ground, turn in a tight circle and checking his digital pulse.
Observing your horse and looking out for anything that may seem out-of-the-norm from their usual behaviour could be the first indication that your horse is suffering.