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What is laminitis?

When keratin degrades, inflammation in the hoof leads to laminitis.


A horse’s hoof has an incredibly tough role. It must support an animal which is both heavy and can move faster than 60 kmph.

The hoof relies on keratin, an important structural protein, to maintain its structural integrity. There are changes to the keratin related genes with the onset of laminitis which diminishes the cells manufacturing processes.

When keratin degrades, inflammation in the hoof leads to laminitis1.

Image courtesy of anatomy-of-the-equine.com

Laminitis is damage and inflammation of the tissue between the hoof and the underlying coffin bone.

This tissue, the laminae, is delicate folded layers of tissue. The bone and hoof wall both have laminae attached to them and these laminae interlock with each other to form a very tight bond.

The outcomes can vary hugely from mild heat and mild soreness to separation of the hoof wall and the coffin bone and the clinical signs will depend on the damage and amount of weakening of the laminae attachments.

Horses may be slightly short stepping, reluctant to move or even refuse to get up. They may shift their weight from foot to foot and have increased heart and respiratory rates.

There are 3 main causes of laminitis:
1. Endocrine diseases such as Cushings disease, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID).
2. Excessive sugar intake – often associated with spring and summer lush pasture.
3. Supporting limb laminitis when one limb is injured and the other weight bearing limb develops laminitis

How can laminitis be prevented?
Feeding Cycle

Prevention is the key as Laminitis is irreversible.
However, there are some tips we can follow to minimise the risk of developing laminitis.

• Limit access to pasture high in sugars by using grazing muzzles and grazing outside the high-risk times - especially for high-risk horses with Cushings, EMS and PPID and horses that have had episodes of laminitis.
• Overweight horses and ponies are more susceptible to developing laminitis so keeping them to a healthy weight is crucial in avoiding the risk of laminitis.
• Ensure regular farrier care to keep hooves correctly trimmed, healthy and balanced.
• Avoid supporting limb laminitis in injured horse by bandaging the opposite limb to support it.

1 Breakthrough laminitis research shows promise for the future. Moore., Tory. December 1, 2021. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/about/news-room/news-stories/news-story-detail/breakthrough-laminitis-research-shows-promise-for-the-future