gelding bay coat Laminitis in Horses - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment!

Laminitis in Horses – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment!

It is a horror for every horse owner: The horse does not want to move anymore, goes lame and shows the so-called sawbuck position. These can be signs of acute laminitis, which must be treated urgently. Laminitis is often severe and painful, so it is important that you recognize it early in your horse or pony.

In our guide you will learn what laminitis is, what the symptoms of laminitis are, what you can do about it and much more.

Laminitis in horses: Brief overview

-> Everything you need to know about laminitis explained in 30 seconds:

Laminitis is an inflammation of the hoof corium. It is very painful for the affected animals.
There are many triggers of laminitis. These include improper feeding and overloading the hooves.
Typical symptoms:
Signs of acute laminitis include tripping, lameness, feet on heels, sawbuck position, pulsating toe end artery, warm hoof.
The veterinarian will confirm the diagnosis via clinical signs, physical examination of the animal, and radiographs of the hoof if necessary.
Immediate measures such as cooling reduce the pain. The veterinarian administers medication against the inflammation and swelling. Further therapy depends on the present cause.
Because laminitis can have a variety of causes, many precautionary measures are possible. These include, for example, consistently rationed concentrated feed and no exercise on hard surfaces.

What is laminitis?

Laminitis can occur in all horses and ponies. Laminitis, also known as laminitis, is a condition in which the hoof corium, which connects the bony coffin bone to the horn capsule, becomes inflamed.

When the corium becomes inflamed, it swells. For your animal, acute laminitis is very painful. This is because the inflamed hoof corium is swollen so thick that blood can no longer circulate properly in the hoof. The firm hoof prevents the swelling from spreading under the horn capsule, which increases the pressure in the hoof.

Acute laminitis is always an emergency! The inflammation must be treated quickly, because the restricted blood circulation means that the hoof is no longer supplied with sufficient nutrients and the horse suffers greatly. Chronic laminitis threatens to cause coffin bone rotation.


The earlier laminitis is detected and treated, the better the therapeutic results.

Laminitis Symptoms: How do I recognize acute laminitis in a horse or pony?

Ponies do not show many signs of laminitis in the early stages, but in large horses laminitis is more noticeable. It is noticeable that the horse often lifts and sets down the affected hooves even with a slight inflammation of the hoof corium. Your animal then reluctantly gives hooves, does not want to support the farrier and leans against you when lifting the hoof.

When your horse is moving, laminitis is most likely to be noticeable. Walking and trotting are only possible with an indistinct lameness. Your animal walks stiffly. Hard ground and tight turns will increase the signs.

Carefully feel your animal’s legs if you notice signs! Because you may notice pulsation at the toe artery if the hoof corium is inflamed. The toe artery runs along the back of the pastern. The horse’s hooves are warmer than normal.

Acute laminitis is accompanied by marked lameness. Your animal does not want to move and even standing may be painful. Look closely at how your animal stands: When the hoof walls become unloaded and the heels overloaded, this is called a sawhorse stance. Now the hooves are hot and you can clearly feel the throbbing pulsation of the arteries.

Symptoms of chronic laminitis?

Some horses and ponies become apathetic and lame about 48 to 72 hours after an acute episode of laminitis, and they have little appetite. Hooves may feel cold as blood flow decreases. Acute inflammation is no longer detectable. But the white line on the sole of the hoof is widened. In addition, the toe wall is often concave and the typical doe rings form. Sometimes the hoof also forms a tuberous change. These signs may or may not occur.
List: Symptoms of the different stages of laminitis according to the laminitis guidelines of the Society of Equine Medicine.

According to the Society of Equine Medicine’s guide, there are three stages of laminitis:
The prodromal stage (I.), the acute stage (II.) and the chronic stage (III.):

I. Prodromal stage is the stage of onset of the disease until the horse shows the first clinically recognizable signs of the acute stage of laminitis.
II. symptoms of the acute stage of laminitis are as follows.

The horse shows an altered posture. The front hooves are extended forward and/or the hind legs are pushed under the belly.
The horse begins to patter, alternately putting weight on the front hooves.
Diseased horses show an altered walk and trot. The gait becomes clammy.
Horse no longer likes to give hoof, refuses.
Animal starts to move unwillingly, shows turning pain.
Lameness becomes obvious.
When walking, the horse feet on the heels ("heel-footing").
Toe end artery pulsates strongly.
Crown hem of affected hoof swells and becomes warm.
The horn capsule becomes warm and horses show tenderness when examined with hoof tongs.

III. chronic stage of laminitis continues the acute stage.

It starts when the position of the coffin bone in the capsule changes (rotation). Clinical signs may be absent or may vary in severity:

Chronic active laminitis:
The signs of disease are similar to those in acute laminitis, but in this case the coffin bone is displaced. It is unstable and can break through the sole.
Chronic stable laminitis:
The affected horse shows fewer signs of disease, moves voluntarily. The position of the coffin bone is stable.

You may notice the following on the hoof:

The white line is widened.
Horn rings diverge.
The sole of the hoof bulges out.
The toe wall is arched, possibly bulbous deformations.
Heels are high.
Horn quality is reduced.
Crown may be bulging or sunken.

Chronic laminitis with complications:

If the acute signs of disease recur at intervals, the following complications may occur:

A hoof abscess develops.
A loose or hollow wall forms.
The coffin bone breaks through the sole of the hoof.
The coffin bone dies.
The heel band partially loosens.
The dreaded shoeing occurs.


Chronically ill horses can also suffer acute bouts of laminitis.

Laminitis Causes: What triggers laminitis?

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why the hoof corium can become inflamed in your four-legged friend. In individual cases, it is often difficult to find the true cause. Below is a list of possible causes:

Stress laminitis is when the hoof is overloaded. Long walking on hard ground can trigger such an overload. Then we talk about a so-called marching laminitis.
If one hoof is immobilized, the opposite hoof is often overloaded and can develop laminitis.
Long periods in the stable lead to laminitis. The lack of exercise also puts too much stress on the hooves.
If the horse's hooves are not cared for or are improperly cared for or handled, the hoof mechanism and blood flow can be disrupted. Blood flow may be disturbed and the hoof corium becomes inflamed.

Feed or feeding laminitis

Improper feeding causes feed laminitis. It is the most common. If you give your horse or pony feed with too many carbohydrates (for example, too much grain), the intestinal flora can change. Endotoxins are released and the body becomes overly acidic. This can cause inflammation of the hoof corium.

Too much fructans in the grass and hay can also lead to laminitis.
Cold water

Similar processes to those associated with laminitis are suspected when large amounts of cold water are ingested. The cold water may also initiate processes that release endotoxins, if applicable.
Endotoxic laminitis after birth or after infectious diseases

Endotoxic laminitis occurs when small parts of an afterbirth remain in the uterus and bacteria decompose them. Endotoxins form and damage the blood vessels. The mechanisms that lead to obstetric laminitis are the same as in feed laminitis: toxins are transported through the body via the bloodstream and damage the vessels in the hoof.

An inflamed endometrium and infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi can also lead to laminitis.
Poisoning laminitis

Poisoning laminitis also involves toxins circulating in the body. Some plants are toxic to horses. Poisoning laminitis can be caused in your horse or pony by, for example:

Yew trees

Herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and various molds and fungal spores can also be on or in the feed and cause poisoning laminitis.

Even snakebites, vaccinations and worming treatments have been known to cause poisoning diets. After administering a worming treatment, masses of parasites can die off in horses with severe worm infestations. When they decompose in the body, toxins in turn enter the bloodstream and trigger hoof dermatitis.

Medications or diseases that cause laminitis

Cortisone preparations, for example, are suspected of triggering drug-induced laminitis. However, various diseases are also associated with laminitis today. Laminitis is then a secondary or concomitant disease.

These diseases can cause laminitis, for example:

Equine Cushing Syndrome (ECS), now also called PPID (Pituiary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) (=> overproduction of cortisol).
Thyroid diseases
Cycle disturbances in mares such as permanent oestrus or lack of oestrus
Increased blood fat values (hyperlipidemia)
Lyme disease (bacterial infection caused by a tick bite)
Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS; a metabolic disorder predominantly in light-fed horses)

Laminitis diagnosis: how do you diagnose laminitis for sure?

If you suspect that your four-legged friend has laminitis, contact your veterinarian immediately. He will ask you about the history and the symptoms you have noticed.

On site, the veterinarian will examine the animal clinically, observe it closely, and perform a lameness exam – if the animal is still able to do so. The veterinarian can also determine if the animal is experiencing pain on the hoof with a hoof caliper test.

In addition to clinical exams, x-rays help the veterinarian confirm the diagnosis. During this process, the veterinarian selects different projections to properly evaluate changes in the coffin bone and hoof capsule. With the help of the X-rays, the veterinarian determines how far the laminitis has progressed. Has the coffin bone already lowered or rotated?


If there is pain around the hoof, laminitis is always a differential diagnosis.

Laminitis Therapy: How to treat laminitis?

To help you relieve your horse’s severe pain in acute laminitis as quickly as possible, you can take initial immediate measures.
Immediate measures: What can I do?

Cool the hoof in cold ice water or with cooling pads.
Stall the animal on soft ground.
If possible, do not move the animal

Once the veterinarian has arrived and examined the animal, he fights the pain and inflammation in acute laminitis with medication. Swelling and pressure in the hooves must subside. Among other things, he administers anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning agents. He also orders general measures such as continued cold applications and stable rest on soft ground as well as feeding hay.

The actual therapy is finally directed at the cause of laminitis in the specific case (for causes see above). Therefore, it is extremely important that the veterinarian makes an exact diagnosis. For example, in the case of feed-induced laminitis, you must immediately change the feeding.

Orthopedic measures also help to relieve the hooves of the sick animal. In acute laminitis, a soft pad supports the frog or coffin bone. Soft bandages or special hoof shoes are used to promote the rear half of the hoof and raise the heels.

If necessary, the front part of the toe wall is removed. In this way, secretion runs off and the painful toe area is less stressed.
How long does the treatment for laminitis last?

The length of treatment depends on the course of laminitis, which the veterinarian monitors regularly. If the course is mild, the therapy lasts about twelve days. If the animal is no longer lame after the treatment and the coffin bone has not shifted, the laminitis has subsided.

If the laminitis is chronic and the coffin bone has shifted, the hooves are treated further. Usually a plaster cast or a hoof shoe is fitted. After some time, a special horseshoe can also help.

Laminitis prophylaxis: How can I prevent laminitis in my horse?

With a few simple rules you can help to prevent laminitis in your horse. If you follow the rules consistently, you will reduce the risk of your horse getting sick.
Tips for laminitis prevention

Adjust concentrate rations to the actual workload of your animal!
Avoid overweight in your horse!
Calculate the fructan content of grass and hay!
Pay attention to slow feed changes!
Keep the feed clean and free of fungi!
Always check pastures and roadsides for poisonous plants!
Move your horse regularly!
Avoid movement on hard ground!
Pay attention to discharge and completeness of the afterbirth!
Recognize and treat ECS and EMS early!
Provide good hoof care and proper shoeing!


If your horse has already had laminitis, he has an increased risk of getting it again. Here the prophylactic precautions are especially important!

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