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Laminitis is a very painful disease in horses, which mainly affects ponies, donkeys and heavy horses. It is the second most common cause of death in horses today, so it should be taken very seriously. The causes are multiple, as are the treatments. Here is what you need to know about laminitis and how to treat it.
Laminitis is a condition that affects the soft tissues of your horse’s feet, causing inflammation. It affects the front of the feet, but in some severe cases also the hind feet. In its most severe forms, laminitis in horses can cause tissue necrosis or a tilting of the distal phalanx of the hoof which can even lead to perforation of the sole. Laminitis can appear as an acute or chronic attack. In the case of acute attacks, laminitis can occur after too long and intense effort on hard ground, after eating too much feed compared to your horse’s needs, or following a severe illness such as pneumonia, colic, metritis, etc. A serious injury such as the fracture of a limb can also cause laminitis on the opposite limb, with the horse shifting its weight onto the healthy limb. This is known as “bearing laminitis”. In the case of chronic laminitis, the main causes are overweight, or an endocrine disease called Cushing’s syndrome, which causes an excess of cortisol in the blood.
Horse laminitis can be recognised by several symptoms. In the case of an acute attack following a trigger, the first symptoms to appear are warmth in the feet and an increase in the digestive pulse (pulse in the pastern, normally absent). Then, one can observe more or less permanent trampling in the horse, difficulty in walking or moving, a frank lameness, a camped attitude of the horse (which tries to transfer its weight to the hind legs) and in the most serious cases immobility or inability to stand. In cases of chronic laminitis, a change in the shape of the feet is particularly noticeable.
Several treatments are possible to treat laminitis in horses. In the case of an acute attack of laminitis, an anti-inflammatory treatment will be administered to your horse. To relieve it, you can also use cryotherapy, which consists of plunging the affected limb of your horse into a container of ice water. Special cooling gaiters can also be applied to your horse. In addition to relieving the inflammation (and therefore the pain), this treatment will promote blood circulation in the foot. The farrier can also intervene to relieve the fork with a suitable shoe. During the treatment, it is essential that your horse remains at rest.
In the case of chronic lameness, orthopaedic measures will provide the horse with greater comfort. You can also provide a soft and comfortable bedding for your horse or a sand paddock if he lives outside. If your horse is overweight, it will also be essential to adapt its diet to bring it back to a weight appropriate to its condition. For horses with Cushing’s syndrome, your vet may prescribe specific treatment.