Laminitis is a type of lameness, which can affect equids at any time of the year, although we see it most frequently from May to September, when their natural food source (grass) has changed from low calorie to very high, with vastly increased sugar content. Changes in the feet, caused by ingesting high concentrate feed result in moderate to severe lameness and may become permanent, and allows laminitis to develop more easily in subsequent years. Why does this happen? Long ago, in a different era, horses and ponies inhabited a land where available nutritious food was sparse and they spent most of the time with their heads down eating what they could in order to survive and reproduce. Food availability in the UK has changed since these times but the equine instinct to eat all the time hasn't, so we as keepers and guardians of the species, must protect them from themselves.
Laminitis more commonly affects the front feet but can be found in the back feet too. Horses suffering laminitis will be trying to keep the weight off their toes, they will be leaning back with front feet stretched forward and sometimes with their hindfeet tucked under their body. Severely affected horses and ponies will lie down or constantly shift the weight from foot to foot. Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushings Disease will predispose ponies and horses to laminitis. Click to find out more.
If your horse is prone to putting on weight you need to take measures to prevent laminitis. Either try to fence off a bare area of ground with very little grass available for your horse to eat or keep it stabled for part of the day on hay. By bagging the hay within two or three haynets you can keep your horse amused and feeding but it will have to work hard to get at the food and thereby lose weight. Regular exercise will help too.
If you suspect your horse is suffering laminitis then call your vet out straight away and try not to move the patient. If you are near a stable put the affected horse in with a very deep litter of shavings to take the pressure off the feet until the vet attends. Telephone our receptionists on 01291 672637 to arrange an immediate call out.