Symptoms usually appear suddenly, the most prevalent being lameness, particularly in the front hooves. Horses may be reluctant to move or adopt a ‘leaned back’ stance when standing, shifting weight to the heels while the fore limbs are in front of the body. This is often accompanied by a strong digital pulse at the back of the fetlock and increased heat in the hooves. The condition is extremely painful, can be crippling and even fatal, if you suspect laminitis the vet should be called as an emergency. The sooner veterinary attention, often accompanied by specialist farriery, can be given, the better the chance for complete recovery.
Recent studies have shown several factors can be involved in a horse’s susceptibility to laminitis, including diet. Obesity raises the risk, putting extra strain on the limbs as well as disrupting a balance in hormones. Using a weight tape alongside fat scoring (feeling for definition of features such as shoulders and ribs) can be a good indicator whether or not your horse is a healthy size. Hormonal imbalances caused by underlying conditions such as Cushing’s disease and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) are now also believed to be present in most reported cases.
Restricting intake of rich grass (high in fructans) is easy to implement, sectioning pasture using electric tape or by using a grazing muzzle, which can also help with weight loss. It is sensible to follow feed manufacturers advice, feeding little and often, according to type and workload. You many also want to consider supplements such as probiotics or those specifically designed for horses at risk of laminitis.
Other risk factors include stress, infection and concussion (trauma to the hooves from hard work on rocky ground). Once a horse has been affected by laminitis, their risk of recurrence is increased, future monitoring and managing is essential. Awareness is the key and prevention is most definitely better than cure!