With the spring in sight, one of the most common conditions during this time and the summer months is, Laminitis. 

Whilst Laminitis can occur at any time of the year, it is particularly prevalent during these months.

Laminitis can occur, not only from grass, or attack just overweight equines, it can also occur following a trauma and as such this is often called ‘stress lami’

In a nutshell, Laminitis is a very painful debilitating condition which involves the sensitive laminae that attaches the pedal bone to the hoof capsule within the Equine.

This is an extremely common condition that affects many equines in the UK of which can have a poor prognosis.  It is therefore imperative that you can recognise the signs and symptoms before the condition worsens.

What is Laminitis?

The hoof wall is lined by varying sensitive tissues termed ‘laminae’. Laminae is the only means of support to the pedal bone. This has a constant flow of blood and is responsible for the majority of weight bearing.

When an equine develops laminitis, the blood flow to the laminae is reduced which results in inflammation and swelling of the hoof tissues. This can cause excruciating pain.

Did you know… 

Laminitis can affect the equine for the rest of their life even if they have only had one mild case.

In a mild case of laminitis, an equine may become footsore and experience discomfort.

In a severe case, the pedal bone can drop and rotate due to the inability of the damaged laminae to support the bone. This action, combined with the pulling of the bone from the deep digital flexor tendon, can cause the pedal bone to protrude from the sole of the hoof.

An equine with this scale of laminitis can have an extremely poor prognosis.

Any horse, pony or even donkey can be affected by laminitis, either chronically or acutely, usually in the front feet. However, it can in some cases affect all hooves. 

Causes of Laminitis:

Several different factors can cause laminitis or predispose a horse to getting the condition. Animals that are overweight or have suffered previously from laminitis are particularly susceptible.

Diseases with Inflammation:

Diseases linked with inflammation can cause laminitis to flare up, such as:

  • certain types of colic
  • diarrhoea
  • retained placenta
  • severe pneumonia 

Hormonal diseases

Cushings disease:

This condition is associated with an abnormality in the pituitary gland, which is found at the base of the equines brain. As a result of this abnormality the equine can suffer from excessive thirst and appetite. The coat becomes curly and the equine can sweat a lot and lose weight. In addition to these symptoms, in many cases equines will suffer from laminitis because of having Cushing’s disease.

Equine metabolic syndrome: 

If your equine is obese, has been diagnosed with insulin resistance and suffers with laminitis then they could have equine metabolic syndrome, otherwise known as EMS.  Easy tests can be done by your vet to determine if they have this.

Mechanical overload:

This can be associated with an injury which forces one leg to bear more weight. The leg that is bearing the increased weight will be at an increased risk of laminitis. 

High intake of soluble carbohydrates (sugar and starch):

When an extremely high amount of this is ingested it can cause an overload in the digestive system with the undigested sugar and starch pushed through to the hindgut.

Bacteria breaks down the undigested material causing acidity in the hindgut, which kills the bacteria that digests fibre. As the bacteria die, they release toxins into the gut, which are then passed into the bloodstream through the gut wall. These toxins provoke a response within the horse that is thought to disrupt blood flow, which, in the feet, can cause laminitis.


A dramatic change in an equines environment and possible frequent travelling can trigger laminitis. Mares are also at higher risk after foaling due to the additional stress.

Severe infection:

Blood poisoning can occur from any condition where an animal suffers a severe bacterial infection. This could be retention of the placenta after foaling, any severe colic attack or prolonged diarrhoea.


When an equine is has a highly calorific intake or more than it can burn off, the equine can put on weight and this can happen quickly. This can be at detriment to the equine’s health.  Excess weight adds an increased strain on the equines organs as well as its limbs. Equines often require less feed than they are given.


This is also a cause of laminitis. If an equine is worked hard / fast and for an extensive period on a hard surface, for example trotting on roads or hardened ground, this can affect the laminae. If the laminae suffer trauma in this way it can bring on laminitis.

Symptoms of Laminitis

Acute laminitis:

Acute laminitis symptoms generally come on very suddenly and are severe.

The equine will present an inability or reluctance to walk or move.  Sometimes they may be lying down and struggle to stand up. The equine will be visibly lame notably when turning on a circle or walking on a hard surface.  They will present with an increased digital pulse.

When the equine is standing, they may lean back on to its hind legs in order to relieve the pressure on their front feet.  The equine will have pain in the frog and when they walk it may place it’s heels down first.  Other symptoms can be vaguely similar to colic.

Chronic laminitis:

An equine with chronic laminitis will show signs of ongoing symptoms that are generally a result of a relapse from previous attacks.

The equines hoof will present the sight of growth rings around the wall of it’s hoof which normally indicates that it has suffered from laminitis previously. However, these should not be confused with hoof rings, which are due to changes in nutrition or to any stress.

The equine may well have a large crest, which runs along its neckline.


Treatment of Laminitis:


If an equine presents with these symptoms it is important to call the vet and follow any treatment plans meticulously.   It is Imperative that treatment is given as soon as possible to provide immediate pain relief and prevent any lasting damage.

It is a good idea to put the equine in an enclosed area with a very very deep bed, it is important that the bedding can support the frog by moulding to and into the foot.

You should remove any feed, including any licks or treats, but ensure that fresh clean water is always accessible. It is also incredibly important that the equine is not starved due to predisposition to hyperlipaemia in obese equines as this can then cause its own secondary issues. The vet will advise on suitable feeds and quantities.

It is especially important to minimise stress to the laminitic equine.  Stress can be a contributory factor to laminitis, so it is vital that your equine is placed in an environment where it feels comfortable.

The vet may advise that x-rays need to be taken of the feet to show how much (if any) rotation has occurred. A farrier may also need to attend under vet supervision to correct the rotation and make sure the feet are in the best condition to facilitate recovery.

Prevention of Laminitis:

Diets should be monitored carefully. All owners should remember to feed in accordance with their equine’s workload and type.

Ideally you should follow the rule of feeding little and often. This mimics the natural feeding pattern and will help keep the digestive system working correctly.

Never starve an equine as this can lead to serious health problems such as hyperlipaemia and only feed high fibre, low carbohydrate, and low sugar products. It is advised to avoid feeding cereal mixes and molassed products.

Restrict grass intake by strip grazing or using a grazing muzzle. Equines can survive on little. Grass is extremely high in soluble carbohydrates which can lead to laminitis if eaten in large amounts, especially in spring and autumn. There are less soluble carbohydrates in the grass overnight.

Do not turn out on rich or frosty grass.

Maintain a good exercise programme to try and prevent obesity.

Ensure a farrier attends to their feet strictly every four to five weeks,

As soon as the equine becomes slightly lame or foot sore do not allow grazing until it is completely sound.

Check the equines crest on a regular basis, if it becomes hard, remove, or restrict the grass intake until it softens.

Laminitis is a very painful and debilitating disease. Prevention is always better than cure. When it is not treated quickly or correctly it can cause permanent damage, which may result in euthanasia. With correct management, following vet and farriery advice equines can continue to lead a long and healthy life even after a severe bout of laminitis.

Never rush the recovery as this can have a detrimental effect on how positive the outcome could be.  Even if the equine is looking and feeling much brighter, rehabilitation can take months in some cases, follow advice and work in harmony with the professionals and you will be looking at a much higher full recovery rate.