What is laminitis?
Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae which attach the pedal bone (bone in the hoof) to the outer hoof wall. When these soft tissue attachments have prolonged periods of inflammation, they can die off and this causes the pedal bone to sink away from the hoof wall.
It is a very painful condition, and in very serious cases the pedal bone rotating downwards and sinking towards the sole of the foot can cause extreme amounts of pressure and pain.
What causes laminitis?
The most common cause of laminitis is hyperinsulinaemia. In normal humans and horses, a dietary intake of sugar results in an increase of insulin secretion by the body and insulin then deals with the sugar and stores it away. Native breeds, cobs, ponies and horses who are fatter than they should be, tend to have an exaggerated response to sugar (such as in lush grass) and their insulin surges to abnormally high levels. This increased blood insulin then affects the laminae and they become inflamed and painful!
What does it look like?
Your horse may become reluctant to walk or trot and as laminitis more commonly affects the front feet before it affects all four feet, the horse will be seen to lean back off its front feet, as well as shift weight from one foot to the other. The feet will feel hot, and they will have bounding pulses in the blood vessels that supply the feet.
If you think your horse may have laminitis, bring them into a stable immediately with a deep bed. At this point you should call a vet and they can assess the horse and provide suitable treatment.
What can I do to prevent it?
Regulated small periods of turnout as well as muzzle wearing can decrease the risk of laminitis short term. However, the main and most important management change you can implement long term to prevent laminitis is weight loss. This can be achieved by limiting hard feed for your horse, soaking hay, increased exercise, limited rugging and turnout in small paddocks with little grass.