Laminitis is a hoof disease in which the laminae, or connective tissue that attaches to the hoof wall and the coffin bone within the hoof, becomes inflamed. The condition causes extreme pain in horses as the inflamed tissues apply pressure to the nerves, blood vessels and tendons that extend into the hoof. In serious cases, the laminae can detach from the hoof wall and the coffin bone may rotate or sink in the hoof.
Symptoms of laminitis include lameness, shifting weight from side to side, shifting weight backward in an attempt to move weight to the hind feet and heat in the affected hoofs.
While a complete recovery is possible, in severe cases, the damage to the hoof becomes irreversible. If your horse shows signs of laminitis, this is a medical emergency. Contact your veterinarian immediately.
Several options exist to treat laminitis and each horse responds to the disease and treatments differently. Work closely with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your horse.
Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Medications
Anti-inflammatory medications help to relieve the swelling of the laminae, prevent further hoof damage and reduce pain. Some commonly used medications include:
- Firocoxib or the brand names Equioxx or Previcox.
These medications may cause problems in a horse's gastrointestinal tract. If this occurs your vet may prescribe a medication such as GastroGard to treat or prevent these side effects.
If your horse is in severe pain, your vet may prescribe a stronger pain medication such as ketamine or morphine. Acupuncture also may be considered to relieve pain.
Treat Underlying Condition
Your vet will attempt to diagnose and treat any conditions contributing to the laminitis.
Some conditions that may cause laminitis include:
- Cushing's disease.
- Insulin resistance.
- Endotoxemia, a condition that occurs when bacterial toxins enter the blood stream and may occur due to a retained placenta, pneumonia or colic surgery.
If a horse is lame on one foot, the supporting foot may develop laminitis from the increased workload. Additionally, laminitis may occur from repetitive impact on pavement or other hard surfaces.
Work closely with your veterinarian and farrier to provide the correct shoes and foot support for your horse. Your vet may take a series of X-rays throughout the treatment process and adjust the shoeing and treatment recommendations as necessary. The purpose of the corrective measures are to support the hoof and remove pressure from the laminae and to decrease the break-over, or the distance before the toe rolls over with each step.
Some options your vet and farrier may consider include heart bar shoes, therapeutic boots, taping plastic foam padding or gauze rolls to cushion and support the sole of the foot, and wooden clog shoes.
Vets may suggest treatment options to release pressure on the deep digital flexor tendon in the hoof that may allow the coffin bone to realign. These treatments generally are not used as an initial treatment, but considered after the disease has stabilized. Options include injecting a medication such as Botox into the tendon or surgically cutting the tendon.