Laminitis in Horses & Ponies - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Equine Laminitis is a painful disease of a horse of pony's foot. Laminitis is caused by circulatory changes in the hoof causing inflammation in the sensitive laminae of the feet.

Laminitis is also known as "Founder" and causes severe lameness.

Prevention and treatment of laminitis in horses is possible with special care.

Laminitis mainly affects both of the front feet.

In an acute case the horse or pony resists moving, tends to bear all possible weight on the unaffected hind feet, and will appear to be slightly "sitting" with his front legs stretched forward.

In severe cases of laminitis the horse or pony may spend a lot of time lying flat out on his side.

In a healthy foot the laminae are the membranes that hold pedal bone in place inside the foot.

Unless the condition is diagnosed and the laminitis treated immediately the sensitive laminae begin to die and the attachment of the pedal bone is weakened.

Then the upward pull of the tendons in the leg can cause the pedal bone to rotate or sink within the horse's hoof.

In acute equine laminitis the laminae can be so damaged that the pedal bone penetrates right through the sole of the horse's foot in front of the frog and the horse has to be put down.

As the pedal bone rotates in the hoof it compresses the blood supply to the coronet - this slows down the rate of hoof growth.


This results in the characteristic laminitic hoof rings which are wider at the heel than the toe. - producing a hoof with high heels and a long upward curving toe.

In chronic cases of equine laminitis there is less movement of the pedal bone, but the inflammation causes extra growth of horny tissue between the outer hoof wall and the sensitive laminae.

As a result the "white line" of the hoof is widened and becomes an area of weakness prone to seedy toe, white line disease and abscesses.

A good equine horse insurance policy will cover the cost of treating laminitis.

Grazing on rich Clover can cause horse laminitis

Treatment of Laminitis in a Horse

Laminitis should be treated as an emergency - always call your vet to treat your horse or pony for laminitis.

To relieve pain, restore circulation and stabilise the pedal bone your vet may recommend the following treatments or cures for laminitis:

  • Removal of shoes
  • An equine anti-inflammatory such as Phenylbutazone - "bute"
  • Box Rest at the start of the treatment -moving to a "starvation paddock" as the condition improves.
  • ACP to calm the horse and lower blood pressure
  • Keeping the horse's feet in cold water
  • Antibiotics - if Bacterial toxins are the suspected cause.
  • Blood transfusions
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Equine Probiotics to help restore "friendly" bacteria in the gut
  • Grooving the hoof walls with inch wide vertical grooves, 1- inches apart to relieve pain.
  • Intravenous Saline-Citrate solution
  • Aftercare with corrective shoeing to prevent hoof contraction with rolled toes can be helpful.
  • Using a hoof dressing to stimulate healthy growth of new hoof.
  • Frequent trimming of the hooves - at least once a month - to help the horse feel more comfortable and to give support to the coffin bone and laminae

Feeding a laminitic horse or pony

  • Do not allow grazing
  • Do not feed concentrates
  • Give 3 small feeds of hay a day
  • Avoid drastic starvation
  • Consult you vet if treating a mare in foal.
  • A Magnesium supplement can lessen the risk of laminitis in horses and ponies during the periods of strong grass growth in spring

Causes of Laminitis in Horses and Ponies

  • Unrestricted access to rich grazing especially fast growing grass or clover
  • Feeding large amounts of concentrate feed cause a lot of acid production and growth of the wrong sort of bacteria
  • Bruising or repetitive concussion from excessive exercise on hard ground
  • Bacterial toxins ingested as a result of diarrhea or colic
  • Bacterial toxins absorbed from a retained placenta causing womb infections in a foaling brood mare.
  • Pituitary gland tumours
  • Indirect effect of herbicides
  • Artificial nitrogenous fertiliser application
  • direct and indirect effects)
  • Heat
  • Frost
  • Shock and stress
  • Fever
  • Toxaemia and Septicaemia
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Vaccination
  • Use of Corticosteroids
  • Disease, such as Cushings Syndrome
  • Drinking large quantities of cold water when overheated
  • Inflammation in one foot can occur when the opposite is unable to bear weight due to injury

Laminitis in Horses & Ponies - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment of laminitic horse or pony