Everything you need to know about Laminitis

Laminitis is an extremely painful condition affecting equines at any time of the year, there is no ‘safe season’. It affects structures called sensitive lamellae that are located inside the equine’s hoof. It causes the sensitive laminae to stretch, weaken and become damaged which can cause the pedal bone to move within the hoof. Prevention is better than cure!

There are a number of underlying conditions that can lead to laminitis:


In diseases associated with inflammation, the exact identity of the laminitis trigger remains elusive, but there is the activation of inflammation throughout the body which results in turn in lamellar inflammation. Diseases associated with inflammation e.g. certain types of colic, diarrhoea, retained placenta, severe pneumonia.

Endocrine Disease (hormone)

Endocrine Disease is most commonly know for two different diseases; Equine Cushing’s Disease and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). Although it is currently unclear how these conditions actually cause laminitis, we do know that both are associated with insulin dysregulation.

Insulin dysregulation is where the body has an abnormal response to starches and sugar when eaten. This can lead to insulin resistance where too much of the hormone insulin is released (hyperinsulinemia). Hyperinsulinemia is the direct cause of hormonal laminitis.

Mechanical Overload

Supporting Limb Laminitis (SLL) can be associated with a fracture or infected joint in the leg. The other leg, which is now bearing all of the weight, is at risk of laminitis. In mechanical overload laminitis, it is thought that there is inadequate blood supply to the lamellar tissue in the weight-bearing leg.


At this time of year, it can be hard to control the weight of our ‘good doers’ leading them to be hugely overweight. Weight gain more than doubles the risk of laminitis, demonstrating the importance of keeping your horse at a healthy weight and monitoring fluctuations.

Signs of Laminitis

  • Lameness affecting, most commonly, at least two limbs.  Some equines get very mild laminitis that is not severe enough to cause any visible lameness,
  • The equine leans back onto its heels to take the weight off the painful toe area,
  • The lameness is worse when the equine walks on hard/uneven/stony ground/turns,
  • Shifting weight between feet when resting,
  • Increased digital pulses,
  • Pain with use of hoof testers at the point of the frog,
  • Changes to the shape and angle of the hoof and rings on the outer hoof wall,
  • Hoof wall cracks and bruising on the sole of the foot, usually just in front of the frog,
  • A groove/indent just above the coronet band.

Life after Laminitis

It is important that you don’t starve the equine just because they have laminitis, sudden changes can cause Colic. Although the equine needs to be on box rest, and we are unable to make the transition slowly from field to stable, we need to remember that horses are grazing animals and therefore should eat little and often. Numerous small nets during the day are better than the equine going hungry for long periods of time. You may find that hayballs and double netting can help slow down and the intake of hay.

It can take a while for your equine to recover from a laminitis attack, from weeks to months. Your vet will advise depending on the severity. Once an equine has had laminitis, they will be at an increased risk of getting it again. Management changes should be put in place to minimise the risk of a repeat episodes.

Monitor and manage your equine’s weight, restrict grazing, stay away from lush grass, check for digital pulse and heat, feed a low sugar and starch diet, soak hay, exercise your equine if possible.

It is important to know your equine;

Has anything changed?

Reluctant to; pick feet up, turn, walk on stony/hard ground?

Are they lying down more?

These can all be signs of laminitis. What could seem like nothing, could be the start!


During warm and sunny weather grass makes and stores sugars by the process of photosynthesis. At night, during another physiological process called respiration, the grass is able to convert these sugars into stem growth. But, when the temperature drops and the grass becomes frosty, those sugars get stored in the grass. This means if you allow your equine to eat this, there is a larger intake of sugars, which could be enough to trigger a laminitis attack.

There really is no safe season with Laminitis.