What is Horse Laminitis

Understanding And Treating Horse Laminitis

coffin bone

If you own horses, it is important to know about laminitis and how to recognize the signs. This condition is very dangerous and if not treated correctly can permanently damage a horse or even result in its death. Laminitis occurs when horses overgraze on grass that is too lush. Horses eat by grazing. They are also foragers which means they must eat small amounts of roughage continuously throughout the day. When horses are in the wild, they feed over very wide areas, traveling great distances in search of food. In the wild, horses eat grasses that are low in essential nutrients.

Domestic horses, in comparison, are provided their food and often graze on pastures designed to provide an abundance of nutrients. These horses are also confined to smaller areas which means they are limited to the grasses in their pastures.

The causes

Domestic horses who consume very lush grasses will often also consume too many sugars. When this happens, their bodies cannot process these sugars or burn them off with movement. Also, domestic horses are often fed grains while they are stabled. They eat and then stand without moving.

They may also only get one feeding a day which leaves them with a vacant stomach for several hours. This lack of movement and infrequent feedings can result in laminitis.

What happens when a horse has laminitis

See the horse hoof anatomy to understand more deeply how laminitis can occur.

horse hoof anatomy

Laminitis occurs when the lamellae in a horse’s hoof swell and become inflamed. These are sensitive structures which help hold the coffin bone in place inside the hoof capsule.

When a horse’s hoof is healthy the connection between the lamellae and the coffin bone is strong. This is indicated by a thin white line on the sole of the hoof.

When the connection is damaged, that white line is wider and appears to be stretched. If left untreated, this condition can result in a horse foundering. When a horse founders, their coffin bone detaches from the hoof and can penetrate the sole of the hoof, causing severe pain and trouble walking.

When laminitis is in the early stages, it is called acute laminitis. This is the best time to treat the condition and there is a good chance of correcting it and saving the horse.

When laminitis has been happening for a while, the condition is called chronic laminitis. With chronic laminitis, the coffin bone is rotated and will almost certainly lead to permanent damaged. If the laminitis is too severe, the horse will not be able to move. They may be leaning back on their heels and sweating and panting. They will be trying to take the weight off their hooves and when it gets too bad, they will lie down and not be able to stand.


There are certain symptoms which can mean a horse is suffering from laminitis. These include:

– A reluctance to move or stand
– Lying down more frequently than normal
– A reluctance to turn
– Warm hooves
– Tight muscles
– Blood in the white line on the hoof
– Bounding or very strong pulse in the leg
– Flinching or some other type of pain response when the sole of the hoof is touched or pressure applied
– Visible fever rings on the hoof
– Standing with the weight rocked back, hind feet under the body, and front feet out in front


If laminitis is suspected, the vet should be called immediately. The horse will need to be treated with painkillers to help relieve the pain. They may also require other treatments such as blood pressure medication and frog supports. These are used to help reduce the pressure on the laminae. The vet may use tape, rubber wedges or specially-designed pads as supports. It is also important to minimize movement until the inflammation is reduced. It is usually best to keep the horse stabled and ask the farrier to trim the hooves.


A horse can begin to experience laminitis before the owner sees any symptoms. It is important to recognize the problem as early as possible and call the vet. It is also important to monitor the amount the horse is eating and ensure they aren’t eating too much lush grass. Allow them the freedom to move as often as possible and keep them from gaining weight.