Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

Watching out for Laminitis

As grass grows, keep an eye on signs of disease

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

High temperatures followed by plenty of rain has grass shooting out of the ground in recent weeks, putting owners of horses prone to laminitis on high alert.

Farriers say horses and ponies are going down with this excruciating disease even on paddocks that look bare, so owners must observe their animals every day for signs of potential trouble.

Laminitis is a painful inflammation of the laminae, the tube-like structures that make up the insensitive and sensitive parts of the hoof.

The early signs of laminitis include:

  • The horse or pony has hooves that are hot to the touch or soles that are sore to the touch.
  • The horse or pony is standing in the typical laminitic stance -- trying to lean backwards to put all its weight on its heels and relieve the pain in its feet by pointing its toes.
  • The horse or pony may have a pounding digital pulse. Sometimes the pulse is so strong that it can be seen at a distance. To feel for a digital pulse, press your fingertips lightly on either side of the pastern above the bulb of the heel.
  • The animal may start to walk very tenderly, as if walking on egg shells.
  • The horse or pony may spend prolonged periods lying down, trembling, sweating and looking stressed.
  • The animal might shift its weight from leg to leg and may be reluctant to move.

British-based organisation The Laminitis Trust has conducted and compiled extensive research on this excruciating condition. Experts there recommend that horse owners can prevent laminitis by avoiding certain high-risk situations.

The first and most common of these high-risk situations is obesity. While typical laminitis cases are often ponies that have been allowed to get too fat, any horse that is carrying too much weight or being fed an inappropriate diet can suffer a sudden attack of laminitis.


The secret to avoiding laminitis in this situation is not to turn the horse out while he/she is fatter than body condition score three. This means he should not have a fat deposit along his crest or at the tail head, around the sheath or udder or over the loins. You should be able to feel his ribs easily by running your hand along his side, yet you should not be able to see his ribs.

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Limiting the grass intake can be accomplished by using a grazing mask or muzzle or by restricting the area available for grazing.

Overeating on foods rich in carbohydrate or rapidly fermentable fibre -- for example, cereals, coarse mixes, rapidly growing or fertilised grass -- can also cause laminitis.

Laminitis can also follow any illness that involves toxaemia. This could be a bacterial infection or following the ingestion of plant or chemical toxins.

Horses and ponies that suffer from Cushing's Disease also suffer from laminitis. Cushing's Disease is caused by an abnormality affecting the pituitary gland in the horse's head. Sufferers will hold their winter coat, which becomes long, matted and eventually curly. The horse drinks and eats increased amounts of food, while sweating excessively and losing weight.

Some horses develop laminitis after being severely lame on one leg and having to put all their weight on the opposite limb. Particularly common in the hind feet, this type of laminitis develops in the weight-bearing foot.

Concussive laminitis, sometimes referred to as road founder, can develop when horses are subjected to fast or prolonged work on hard surfaces and suffer trauma to the laminae of the hoof.

Other horses develop laminitis as a result of hormonal problems, cold weather, stress and as a result of treatment with corticosteroids.

In all cases, consult your vet and farrier to decide what the best treatment is for your animal.

Indo Farming