Laminitis Guide for Equine Owners

Laminitis, a condition once defined as inflammation within a horse’s foot, has evolved to encompass a broader understanding. Now, we recognize that the primary causes often involve metabolic and endocrine disorders rather than mere inflammation. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of laminitis, its various causes, signs to watch for, emergency treatments, management strategies, and crucial prevention measures.

Understanding Laminitis.

Historically, laminitis was perceived as inflammation within the lamellae of a horse’s foot. However, contemporary knowledge suggests that inflammation plays a minor role in its most common causes. Instead, the condition arises from the stretching, separation, and death of laminae connections, leading to the sinking or rotation of the pedal bone within the hoof capsule. This severe manifestation is classified as founder or chronic laminitis.

Signs of Laminitis.

Detecting laminitis can be challenging due to the wide variability in symptoms. However, vigilant horse owners should watch for common signs such as reluctance to move, shifting weight between feet, a strong digital pulse, warmth in the hoof capsule, shortened stride, aversion to walking on certain surfaces, divergent hoof rings, increased lying down, reluctance to turn tightly, and general signs of pain. The diagram below shows the difference between a healthy foot and a laminitic foot.

Causes of Laminitis

There are three primary classes of laminitis:

  1. Endocrinopathic or Insulin-related Laminitis: This form, accounting for about 90% of cases, is primarily associated with hyperinsulinemia and insulin dysregulation (ID). It commonly affects ponies and breeds prone to weight gain, leading to insulin dysregulation and susceptibility to laminitis. Additionally, horses with Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID or Cushing’s) may experience insulin dysregulation and heightened laminitis risk.
  2. Sepsis/Inflammatory-related Laminitis: This type occurs in response to severe inflammatory or septic conditions, including colitis, septicaemia, peritonitis, retained placenta, or extreme carbohydrate/grain overload. Treating the underlying illness is crucial, and cryotherapy has shown effectiveness in halting its progression.
  3. Supporting Limb Laminitis (SLL): If a horse suffers an injury in one limb, prolonged non-weight bearing lameness can predispose it to SLL in the opposite leg.

Emergency Treatment.

  • Contact your vet right away if you notice any of the previously mentioned symptoms in your horse.
  • Swiftly relocate them from grassy areas to a confined space like a stable, ensuring a deeply cushioned bed with materials such as sand or shavings. If the bedding doesn’t offer sufficient support, consider using boots, pads or bandaging to provide additional foot support.
  • Administer pain relief as directed by your vet.
  • Consider applying cold therapy to the feet (if recommended).

Management – A Personalised Approach.

Laminitis is a complex condition that demands individualised care tailored to each horse’s unique needs. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, here’s a general guide to our management protocol:

Optimize Diet: Focus on a low Non-structural Carbohydrate (NSC) diet, aiming for less than 10% NSC. Emphasize high-fibre forage while ensuring proper nutrition. Consider options like soaked hay and a balancer to meet dietary requirements.

Identify the Cause: Conduct blood tests to assess for conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), Insulin Dysregulation (ID), and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID, commonly known as Cushing’s disease). Consult with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of laminitis.

Treat the Cause: If PPID is diagnosed, treatment with Pergolide (brand name Prascend) may be recommended to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. For EMS, focus on implementing husbandry changes and, in some cases, medication may be necessary.

Radiographs: Utilize X-rays to evaluate the position of the pedal bone within the hoof capsule. This information will assist in collaborating with your farrier to provide optimal supportive care and trimming.

Immediate Hoof Care: Address immediate hoof concerns promptly and appropriately. Work with your veterinarian and farrier to determine the best course of action based on the specific needs of your horse.

Remember, effective management of laminitis requires a multidisciplinary approach involving veterinary care, nutrition, and farriery. By tailoring our approach to address the underlying causes and individual needs of each horse, we can optimize their well-being and quality of life. Always consult with your veterinarian for personalised guidance and treatment recommendations.


  • Make sure your horse is an acceptable BCS
  • Regular exercise (yes, even a Shetland pony!)
  • Annual blood tests for older horses, PPID is more common in horses over the age of 16.
  • If your horse is at risk of developing laminitis (EMS, obese, previous history, PPID) do not feed a high sugar/starch diet. Do not turn out on lush green grass. Do not turn out on frosty grass.

If you are at all concerned your horse/pony/donkey may be suffering from laminitis of would like some advice on how to manage a chronic case, then give us a call and have a conversation with one of our dedicated equine vets. Remember – laminitis is an emergency and early intervention and ongoing veterinary care are essential in combating this challenging condition.

By understanding its causes, recognising the signs, and implementing preventative measures, horse owners can mitigate the risk and ensure the well-being of their equine companions.

Get in contact today if you think your horse could be suffering.