Laminitis: the affliction that’ll take the spring from your horse’s step

While plenty of us welcome the arrival of the spring months, they represent a challenge for horse owners trying to stave off laminitis.

Lush spring grass comes with a change in weather and daylight hours that we associate with a new lease of life, and that’s precisely the problem for horses and their owners. After months of living on hay and feed in the absence of grazing, nutrient-dense new shoots offer a concentrated source of sugars which can cause new or relapsed cases of laminitis in horses and ponies – a painful condition which affects their feet and can be fatal.

What is laminitis?

Within the hard exterior of a hoof lies an inner, sensitive layer known as the laminae. Laminitis causes inflammation of this layer, which if not treated can cause structural changes in the foot, including the rotation and sinking of the animal’s pedal bone. Not only is this incredibly painful, but it can also lead to lasting damage and in severe acute cases, the horse may need to be euthanised.

What causes it?

Nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) are found in grass and can be broken down into three types – sugars, starches, and fructans. It’s the high levels of NSCs harboured in spring grass which can cause the problems, as they can lead to elevated levels of glucose and insulin resistance in the animal’s system – one of the primary causes of laminitis.

What are the symptoms?

Seeing as the condition relates to the hooves, lameness is a tell tale sign of laminitis. Other signs of acute laminitis can include:

  • Reluctance to move
  • Lying down
  • Rocking back onto heels when standing, with legs outstretched in front
  • Heat in the hooves
  • Increased pulse in the feet

How is it treated?

Vets will advise that a laminitic pony or horse is kept inside their stable for a period of rest and kept on a low-calorie diet. This timeframe will depend on the case, but a deep bed provides comfort for the animal which may be off its feet more than usual. Special shoes are often prescribed to alleviate painful symptoms.

How can it be avoided?

Overweight horses can be more susceptible to laminitis, so be sure to monitor your horse’s feed and be careful with sudden changes to their diet. Restrict grazing in the spring by fencing off areas of fields with temporary fencing or a grazing muzzle.

Hard, dry ground can also be a problem for hooves, as riding and jumping on it can cause concussion to the feet. Your farrier may first notice problematic changes in your horse’s hooves, so you should keep regular appointments to ensure your horse’s hooves are trimmed and shoes are fitted if necessary.

Equine insurance can cover illnesses provided they’re not excluded due to age or pre-existing conditions. We’re happy to discuss any concerns you may have with your policy, whether or not you have your insurance through us. Get in touch to find out more.