Early Signs of Laminitis and Effective Treatment

It is crucial for you as a horse owner to be able to recognise early signs of laminitis in order to combat the intense pain and avoid your horse turning chronically lame. Once your horse has been diagnosed, there are several things you can do to help your horse recover, including easing the pain with hoof boots.


By Helle Maigaard Erhardsen


Laminitis is the local manifestation of a body-wide metabolic breakdown, according to Kentucky Equine Research. Why this metabolic collapse materializes in the feet is not completely understood, but the damage that occurs is well documented.


More specifically, laminitis is the result of a disruption of blood flow to the laminae, which is the tissue inside the hoof holding the hoof capsule onto the foot. The disease occurs when the cells of the laminae don't receive sufficient nutrients from the blood and become unable to keep the pedal bone/coffin bone inside the hoof in place. In severe cases the pedal bone will then start to rotate downward and can penetrate the sole of the hoof.


Progressed laminitis is easy to recognise by the characteristic back-leaning horse that tries to keep his weight off the front of his feet. The condition will cause intense pain and it is devastating to any horse owner witnessing their best friend in such agony. However, there are signs you can watch out for in order to catch the disease before it progresses this far. 


Early Signs of Laminitis and Effective Treatment

A typical posture for a horse with progressed laminitis in his front feet - leaning backwards to avoid putting weight on his sore toes.



How to Spot Early Signs of Laminitis in Your Horse 

- Unusual Behaviour:

All horses react to not feeling well in different ways. Some isolate themselves and don't want to hang out in the herd; some get overly grouchy; some appear depressed and lethargic. Others may exhibit a rapid respiration or excess sweating. Or a reluctance to pick up the hooves for cleaning as usual and avoid gravel or rocks whereas the horse was usually willing to go over any terrain.


- Shortened Strides:

Affected horses will often walk with shorter strides than usual and land with the heel-first. The short, careful steps are most obvious when the horse is walking on a firm or rocky surface or when turning around. When resting, the horse will often shift the weight from one foot to the other and prefer to stand with the hind legs placed further underneath its body.


- Hot or Sore Hooves:

Although it is normal that the temperature fluctuates in your horse's hooves, they are not supposed to stay hot for many hours at the time. A horse that is developing laminitis is also likely to be sore under the sole of the hooves and will pull the hoof away, if you press a hoof pick against the sole in front of the frog towards the toe. 


- Check the Pulse:

As the cells of the laminae begin to die, the lack of blood supply to the hoof causes a bounding pulse in the vascular bundle. You find the pulse by running your fingers down both sides of the back of the fetlock until you feel a soft, thick vein under the skin. If the horse is sound, you will hardly be able to feel the pulse. 


Early Signs of Laminitis and Effective Treatment

A bounding pulse can be a sign of developing laminitis.



Causes and Prevention of Laminitis

If you notice some of the signs mentioned above, it might be time to consult your vet, as you should always consider signs of laminitis a medical emergency. Notifying your vet can be particularly urgent, if you have a miniature pony or a heavy breed horse, as these can be more prone to develop laminitis due to lack of exercise or obesity. Read more about the latest research on obesity-associated laminitis here.


Obesity is, however, only one of the many known causes of laminitis. Understanding the causes of laminitis can also provide valuable knowledge on how to prevent the disease from developing in the first place. As a start, you should always be cautious with grazing lush pastures, especially between late morning and late afternoon hours. This is because the plant sugars are the highest during these times, according to the laminitis-prevention-treatment American Association of Equine Practitioners


Last year, a study by Nick Bamford and colleagues at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science found that only 15-30 minutes of light exercise five times a week can reduce the risk of laminitis. The exercise improved the insulin sensitivity of the horses, which is important, as the horses then didn’t need to produce as much insulin to control their blood sugar, whereas high insulin levels are a risk factor for laminitis.


Another well-known cause of laminitis are grain based diets. All horses, but those that are prone to laminitis in particular, would in stead benefit from a forage based diet. Finally, be careful not to let your horse drink copiously following exercise, as this can not only cause acute laminitis but also colic.



Help Your Horse Recover From Laminitis

Once your horse has been diagnosed with laminitis, your vet should help with customising a specific low sugar/low starch diet. If the horse is shod, you will also need to have your farrier remove the shoes immediately, to relieve the pressure on the sole. A good barefoot trimmer can work out a special trimming routine for your horse throughout the recovering phase.


The overwhelming priority when treating laminitis is to keep your suffering horse as comfortable as possible. As your horse now has to be kept off pasture, you will need to provide him with another kind of soft bedding to lie in, such as sand or a thick layer of straw or wood shavings. Next, your veterinarian will recommend cushioning his hooves to give him additional relief.


Hoof boots will provide immediate physical relief by alleviating significant pressure on the laminar attachments. Meanwhile, the extra stimulation on the sole promotes enhanced blood flow, which will assist in flushing out excess inflammatory fluid and promoting faster healing. Scoot Boots are particularly well suited for horses with laminitis, as they are designed with an open toe which eliminate pressure on the sorest bit of the hoof.



Scoot Boots are Ideal Rehabilitation Boots for Laminitis 

Scoot Boots are impact absorbing like the sole of your sneakers, which will help protect the sensitive soles of your laminitic horse. If you need additional cushioning in the early stage of recovery where the hooves are most sore, you can add Scoot Pads to your boots. Adding a pad might require you to go up a size in boots, so please advise our sizing team about this when ordering your boots and pads.


As mentioned, Scoot Boots are uniquely designed with an open toe, which makes them ideal for laminitic horses. However, Scoot Boots are also highly adaptable as shown in the photo beneath by India Woods. She has cut the entire toe off the boot and rasped the sole to create a customized breakover suitable for a laminitic horse with pedal bone rotation. 


Early signs of laminitis and effective treatment


Another advantage of using Scoot Boots for your horse with laminitis is the exceptional airflow in these boots, which will allow your horse to keep the boots on 24/7. This means you don’t need to expose your horse’s sore hooves by taking the boots off to allow the hooves to dry and air out, as other types of boots will require.


The flexibility of the entire Scoot Boot also allows for natural movement of the hooves which will stimulate the blood flow and promote faster healing. As the horse improves, exercise will be the next important step in rehabilitation. At this stage removing the extra pads from the boots but still keeping the horse booted, is a gentle way to start the transition. As such, the Scoot Boots can assist your horse all throughout the road to recovery from the dreaded disease.


Find more information about using Scoot Boots here.

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About the author

Helle Maigaard Erhardsen is an investigative journalist specialising in environmental issues. Her devotion to the outdoors includes a life long passion for horses of which she has two: Pannigan, an off-the-track Thoroughbred and Audrey, a Shetland pony, who are both bitless and barefoot. Helle is born in Denmark, where she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2015. Her work is characterised by comprehensive research and she was nominated for the special media award Bording Prisen for her investigative reporting with the newspaper Ing.dk. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Journalism, Media and Communication from UTAS, when she relocated to Tasmania.