What Are The Most Common Signs Of Laminitis?

Continuing on from the previous article on Laminitis And Founder In Horses.  Imagine walking out to get your horse from the paddock and you notice that he/she just doesn’t seem like their normal self and is walking oddly or not wanting to move at all.  This is a classic scenario where you may have to get a vet to check for laminitis as this debilitating disease can strike any horse of any breed and any age.  The aim of this article is to give you an idea of what kind of symptoms to keep an eye out for.

The onset of laminitis can be sudden and the previously well horse can be found scarcely able to move.  One of the best indicators that a horse could be suffering from a bout of laminitis is by watching it walk across soft, even ground and then compare it to walking on a hard surface.  If there is sensitivity in the feet, the horse will shorten up its stride and step slowly on harder terrain.  Although all four feet can be affected, the forelimbs are more often affected than the hindlimbs as they bear 50% more weight.

As laminitis progresses the pain causes a characteristic wide base stance, with inability to lift the hooves and, in the worst cases, the horse is unable to stand.  The hoof wall and coronary band are often warm to touch and digital pulses are strong and rapid.

Chronic symptoms are found in cases where the inflammation has existed for some time and structural changes have occurred.  Laminitic ‘rings’ on the surface of hooves are visible and these indicate previous episodes of laminitis.  The hoof wall takes on a dish/slipper shape with long toes.  If the pedal bone has rotated in the hoof, there can be a bulge in the sole corresponding to the rotated bone.

Alert your veterinarian as soon as possible if you detect any of the following:

  1. A shortened stride on hard surfaces.
  2. A strong/bounding digital pulse.
  3. A hoof that has felt unusually hot for hours.
  4. Pain in the toe region when pressure is applied with hoof testers.
  5. Hoof rings and/or a distorted hoof shape.
  6. An increased heart rate. (Most horses maintain a pretty consistent resting heart rate of 30-40 beats per minute.  Dr Andrew Van Eps, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, has noted that the heart rates of laminitic horses tended to rise a day or so before lameness sets in.)
  7. Foot lifting (too little or too much).
  8. If you notice spots of blood or a gap becomes visible along the white line when you pick up your horse’s foot.

The above photo shows a hoof with laminitic ‘rings’, a long toe and a slight dish shape.

The above photo shows separation along the white line

Written by Shannon Godwin BAppSc GDTL

The next blog in this series will discuss some of the causes of laminitis.

Hungerford, T. (1990). Diseases of Livestock. Roseville: McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia.

Kohnke, J., Kelleher, F., & Trevor-Jones, P. (1999). Feeding Horses in Australia. Sydney: RIRDC.

Laminitis. (2017, April 26). Retrieved from The Laminitis Site: https://www.thelaminitissite.org/laminitis.html

Richards, N. (2017, April 5). Feeding the Laminitic Horse. Retrieved from FeedXL: https://www.feedxl.com/newsletters/12-feeding-the-laminitic-horse.html