Laminitis: Part 2

This horse has an equine metabolic syndrome. The fat is accumulated at the typical locations for a horse with this type of disease. (Photo courtesy of Stance Equine)

Treatment and Prevention
By Lauren Lamb

As mentioned last month’s OKFR article, the key to having a successful outcome in a horse with acute laminitis is rapid diagnosis and aggressive therapy. As soon as you notice your horse displaying the clinical signs of laminitis (heat in the front feet, increased digital pulses, walking on egg shells, rocking back on their hunches when turning, etc.) a call should be made to your local veterinarian. The faster you contact your veterinarian and institute therapy, the less damage that will incur to lamina in the hoof and the better chance the horse has to make a full recovery.

Laminitis is usually caused by some other disease with in the body—severe infection, grain overload, grazing on fresh green grass in the spring. The key to therapy, for laminitis, is to identify the underlying cause of the infection or inflammation and initiate therapy towards the disease. An example of this may be a horse with a severe pneumonia, which needs to be administered antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, IV fluids, etc. Another example would be administering mineral or activated charcoal to a horse that has overloaded on grain. The mineral oil or activated charcoal will absorb the excess carbohydrates and/or toxins within the colon and prevent them from being absorbed into systemic circulation.

Equally important is the prevention of further damage to the lamina. Treatment directed towards the lamina includes icing the feet, especially within the first minutes to hour of noticing clinical signs. Putting your horse in a stall with deep bedding of sand or fine wood shavings is another therapy directed toward protecting the lamina.

Sand is the best bedding for horses with laminitis. The sand will mold to the bottom of the horse’s foot, which will help relieve some of the stress on the horse’s hoof wall. Administering an anti-inflammatory such as Bute is also indicated. The Bute will help relieve some pain as well as protect the lamina from further damage secondary to the inflammatory cytokines. Your horse should be taken off all feed, especially feeds that contain molasses or complex carbohydrates. Generally, horses with laminitis can be fed free choice grass hay.

Hoof care is another critical branch of therapy for a horse with laminitis. Within the first few days of a horse developing laminitis, your veterinarian will work with a farrier to place a support shoe on the horse. This support shoe will transfer the weight from the hoof wall to the sole and frog of the foot. The support shoe is a better long-term remedy for a horse with laminitis compared to putting a horse in a stall with deep bedding of sand or wood shavings.

Prevention of laminitis

Laminitis is a painful and debilitating disease. Prevention of laminitis is always better than trying to cure the disease. One good prevention technique is to recognize horses that are predisposed to developing laminitis. Horses with endocrine disorders (equine metabolic syndrome or, Cushing’s disease) are more prone to developing laminitis than the average horse.

Horses with equine metabolic syndrome are considered easy keepers. They will also have regional fat deposits around the tail head, crest of the neck or behind the shoulders. Horse with Cushing’s disease can have similar clinical signs as a horse with metabolic syndrome, plus they will have long, coarse hair coats that do not shed in the summer.

Horses with these endocrine disorders should be fed diets low in starch and high in fat and fiber. Equine Senior feeds are good examples of a feed that is low in carbohydrate and high in fat and starch. Also feeding these horses several times a day helps to mimic the natural feeding habits of a horse. Horses with endocrine disorders need to be placed on medication to help stabilize their hormone imbalances. Consult with your veterinarian to decide which medication you horse may need.

Another potential cause of laminitis is severe systemic inflammation or infection, which can be seen in mares with a retained placenta. The mare should pass her placenta within one to two hours of parturition. If the mare has not passed her placenta in this time, you should contact you veterinarian as soon as possible to initiate therapy to get the placenta passed.

Using black walnut shavings as bedding is also a known cause of laminitis in a horse. This type of bedding is uncommon in Oklahoma and Texas and usually is not an issue.

Overloading a limb secondary to a severe lameness in the opposite limb is a known risk factor for laminitis. The horse will develop laminitis in the limb that is being overloaded. This is also known as support limb laminitis. The reason the weight bearing limb develops laminitis is unknown.

Pick up the December issue to learn more!