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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Martin

Understanding Laminitis in Horses: Identifying, Treating, and Managing the Condition

Updated: Mar 18

*This information is to help improve horse owner awareness. Always consult with a licensed veterinarian when it comes to your horses' health.*

Laminitis is a severe and potentially debilitating condition that affects horses, primarily involving inflammation of the laminae within the hoof capsule. The laminae are responsible for supporting the bone structure within the hoof. If left untreated, laminitis can lead to irreversible damage, causing the coffin bone to rotate downward. Early detection, prompt treatment, and ongoing management are essential for a positive prognosis. In this article, we will explore the causes, signs, treatment options, and long-term management strategies for laminitis in horses.

Understanding Laminitis:

Laminitis occurs when the laminae become inflamed, compromising the bond between the hoof wall and the coffin bone. This inflammation can be triggered by various factors, including metabolic issues such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) or Cushing's disease, as well as acute causes like trauma or chronic hoof biomechanics.

Recognizing the Signs:

Early detection of laminitis is crucial for successful treatment. Some common signs include:

1. Heat radiating from the hoof: Increased warmth in the hooves can indicate inflammation and should be carefully observed.

2. Bounding digital pulses: A strong, throbbing pulse felt at the fetlock or pastern could indicate underlying laminitis.

3. Reluctance to move or walk: Horses with laminitis may show signs of pain and be unwilling to walk or move.

4. Weight shifting: Horses may shift their weight back off the front feet or lean side to side to alleviate pressure.

5. Acute foot tenderness: Laminitic horses often exhibit extreme sensitivity in their hooves, particularly when walking on hard surfaces.

Immediate Treatment:

At the first suspicion of laminitis, it is crucial to start anti-inflammatory treatment promptly. Consult your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan. Immediate measures may include:

1. Administering anti-inflammatory medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Banamine are commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation.

2. DMSO drip: Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) may be used as a topical treatment to alleviate pain and inflammation.

3. Icing the feet: Applying ice packs or cold water therapy can help reduce swelling and provide temporary relief.

Diagnostic Imaging:

Radiographs (X-rays) of the front feet are recommended early on to establish a baseline for future comparison. This allows for the identification of any rotation or changes in bone angles. Additional radiographs should be taken a week or two after the acute episode to monitor progress.

Long-Term Management and Farrier Intervention:

Horses that have experienced rotation of the coffin bone require ongoing care and meticulous monitoring. Working closely with an experienced farrier or equine podiatrist is crucial for successful management. Some key aspects of long-term management include:

1. Regular monitoring: Hoof growth and bone angles should be carefully tracked to detect any changes promptly.

2. Corrective shoeing: A skilled farrier can provide specialized shoeing or trimming techniques to support the horse's feet and promote optimal hoof growth.

3. Collaboration with veterinary professionals: Partnering with a trusted veterinarian and farrier is essential for developing an effective long-term management plan tailored to the horse's specific needs.

Prognosis and Prevention:

When caught early and managed correctly, horses can lead happy, healthy, and even competitive lives despite laminitis. However, the outcome is not always positive, particularly if the condition is left untreated or poorly managed. Severe cases of laminitis can cause significant pain, sometimes ultimately requiring euthanasia.


Laminitis is a serious condition that demands immediate attention. By familiarizing

yourself with the signs of laminitis, working closely with your veterinarian and farrier, and following a comprehensive treatment and management plan, you can significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome for your horse. Remember, prevention is key, so stay vigilant, be knowledgeable about your horse's feet, and implement appropriate measures to reduce the risk of laminitis.

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