Equine Laminitis: What you should know

equine laminitis

Equine laminitis is a serious condition and constitutes a medical emergency. While the affected horse is not likely to die from laminitis, their owner may decide to have them euthanized if the animal does not respond to treatment properly. 

Laminitis affects the laminae, the tissue that bonds the hoof wall to the coffin bone. The weight of the horse, along with other factors, can cause a displacement of the distal phalanx, resulting in lameness. Additionally, extreme cases have recorded the coffin bone penetrating the sole of the hoof.

In some cases, it can take a number of months for horses to fully recover from laminitis. You should note that animals that have experienced laminitis have increased chances of developing it again. While laminitis can be treated, good management practices should be put in place to limit the chance of it happening again.


Depending on the severity of the condition, the horse may display a number of clinical signs. 

Laminitis is often divided into three groups, namely acute, sub-acute, and chronic. 


  • This phase can span hours to days, usually less than three days. 
  • The first signs of lameness may be detected.
  • Heat in the affected foot.
  • Swelling of the affected limb.
  • Constant shifting of weight and signs of discomfort. 
  • Uneven or hesitant gait. 
  • Hesitance to move or reluctance to rise. 
  • Pain in the foot where pressure is applied, especially in the toe region.


  • Horses with sub-acute laminitis may exhibit some or all of the above symptoms, but to a lesser severity.
  •  Often horses with sub-acute laminitis may show a subtle change in stance and mild discomfort.
  • Likewise, there may be no increase in digital pulse or heat in the foot.


  • When clinical signs have lasted more than a week, the condition is classified as chronic. 
  • Displacement of the distal phalanx will mark this condition as chronic regardless of how long the clinical signs have lasted.
  • Seedy toe, white line disease, and abscesses may be present in some horses with chronic laminitis.
  • The horse is usually extremely lame and shows high reluctance to stand or move. 
  • As previously mentioned, severe cases of chronic laminitis will have the sole of the hoof penetrated by the coffin bone. 
  • Long-standing periods may affect the shape of the hoof itself, with bands of irregular growth, and a narrow, elongated form. 


There are three generally accepted causes for equine laminitis, although the exact cause of laminitis is controversial and often debated. 

  1. Diseases associated with inflammation, sepsis, or endotoxemia, such as diarrhoea or retained placentas. 
  2. Endocrine-related diseases such as equine metabolic syndrome or Equine Cushing’s disease.
  3. Supporting limb laminitis, which also referred to as mechanical overload. It is thought that there is an inadequate blood supply to the laminae associated with continuous and excessive weight-bearing.  


Consult a veterinarian if you suspect the possibility of equine laminitis, as they will be able to investigate the condition fully. Quick and effective treatment of the condition is vital to ensuring your horse’s chance of a full recovery. 

  • Equine laminitis is often a result of another primary problem. In this case, treating the underlying problem is the first step. 
  • You will need to feed poorer quality hay and forage rather than high-sugar grains and concentrates. 
  • Providing fluids to ill or dehydrated horses.
  • Drain and treat any abscesses that have developed. 
  • Stable the affected horse on soft, deep bedding and encourage it to lie down to reduce the pressure on the affected laminae.
  • Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics and anti-endotoxins to fight infections and reduce bacterial loads. 
  • Your vet may suggest anti-inflammatory aids for pain relief and inflammation control. 
  • Farrier visits will be necessary to provide proper hoof support and encourage normal hoof growth.


As previously mentioned, you should be aware that horses that have developed laminitis are at risk to develop it again. However, you can aid in preventing laminitis in the following ways:

  • Provide your horses with the correct nutrition and keep them at a healthy body weight, as overweight horses tend to develop laminitis more easily.  
  • Similarly, restrict grazing on lush pastures with high sugar content.
  • Ensure that your horse is up to date on parasite control and vaccinations, as well as good overall health-maintenance.
  • Reduce the amount of easily digestible carbohydrates in the diets of horses that have already experienced past episodes of laminitis, are high-risk, or are insulin-resistant. 
  • Ensure that farrier visits are up to date. Similarly, ensure hoof care is sufficient.
  • You may want to supply a supplement geared towards promoting hoof health.  
  • Use frog- or frog and sole supports on animals that are high risk. 

To learn more about other hoof conditions like greasy heel, seedy toe, or other hoof conditions, check out our other articles on hoof care


  1. www.rvc.ac.uk/equine-vet/information-and-advice/fact-files/laminitis
  2. aaep.org/horsehealth/laminitis-prevention-treatment
  3. ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/health-topics/laminitis
  4. www.msdvetmanual.com/musculoskeletal-system/lameness-in-horses/laminitis-in-horses