Horse Health 101: The Causes of Laminitis

A post by Charlotte Edmond

I have been around horses my entire life. One of the most common diseases I have heard about is laminitis. Countless times I have heard owners discuss in admiration the glory days of their horses. That is, until their beloved pets developed laminitis and were retired to a pasture. So what exactly causes this disease and is it something that can be prevented? I read three articles to find out. 

There are multiple causes of laminitis which are mentioned in all three of these articles. They are poor shoes, poor hoof trims, and a poor diet. Two of these articles specify a poor diet as a diet that is too high in carbohydrates, or sugars and starches (“Laminitis”; “Laminitis in horses-prevention and cure”). A large intake of these types of foods results in a lot of undigested carbohydrates breaking down in the hindgut. This causes a rise in acidity which kills the local bacteria. When this bacteria dies it releases a toxin which, upon entering the bloodstream, will hinder circulation. When this occurs in the hooves it can cause laminitis (“Laminitis”). 

A poor trim and poor shoe are defined in one of these articles. The article specified a poor trim, poor shoe, or excessive work on a hard surface will put excessive pressure on the sole of the hoof causing a risk factor for laminitis. It does this in one of two ways. These events can cause too much heal growth, leading to an imbalanced hoof. They can also cause an accumulation of tissue between the hoof wall and the coffin bone (Eustace, “Equine Laminitis”). 

A few risk factors that are broached by more than one article include septic disease, travel, and Cushing’s disease. 

The effects of septic disease on a horse’s hooves are similar to that of a high carb diet in that they hinder circulation. Some issues which fall into this category include colic and pneumonia (Eustace, “Equine Laminitis”). 

Another disease which puts a horse at risk for laminitis is Cushing’s. A large number of horses which have Cushing’s disease will also develop laminitis (“Laminitis”; Eustace “Equine Laminitis”). Travel is discussed in multiple articles as well, though not as thoroughly. Horses which are obese or traveling in extreme climates are more at risk (“Laminitis”; Eustace, “Equine Laminitis”). 

There are no views on the causes of laminitis in these articles which are explicitly contradictory. However, each article focuses on different causes. 

One article mentions various causes which are not brought up in the other two. These reasons are mostly focused on drugs and treatments which, when administered 

to high-risk horses, can cause laminitis. Corticosteroids are a class of commonly administered drugs that can cause a severe founder episode in horses vulnerable to laminitis. Another commonly used drug which can have similar effects is a group of wormers called anthelmintics. Pyrantel falls into this group. When given a double dose of pyrantel horses are especially likely to develop laminitis (Eustace, “Equine Laminitis”). 

Another key difference in these pieces is the way two of these seek out to refute false claims and myths about laminitis. Both of these point out the common misconception that only the front feet are affected. One or all feet may be affected, including the hind hooves (“Laminitis”; Eustace, “Equine Laminitis”). However, one article goes beyond this to explain many misunderstandings including the belief it is hereditary, the idea that it can be diagnosed by feeling heat in their hooves, and the notion pregnant mares cannot develop laminitis (Eustace, “Equine Laminitis”). All of these ideas are without scientific evidence and as such should not be used in treatment or diagnosis. 

From the information drawn from these sources, I can safely conclude many things make a horse susceptible to laminitis. Most of these things can be prevented or monitored when the owner of the horse is aware of them. Being aware of times any risk factors will overlap will aid in preventing laminitis or at least identifying it early on to lessen the damage. 

Works Cited 

“Laminitis.” Blue Cross For Pets, 9 Nov. 2016, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017. 

Eustace, Robert A. “Equine Laminitis.” The Laminitis Trust, 13 Oct. 2009, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017. 

“Laminitis in Horses – Prevention and Cure.” All Natural Horse Care. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017 

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