Laminitis is a condition that causes inflammation to the sensitive laminae within the horse’s hoof. These laminae are the interlocking tissues that attach the hard horny hoof to the underlying tissues of the foot. Inflammation of these causes a localised swelling to the tissues within the hoof capsule. This results in pressure (like having a stone in your shoe) and also interrupts the normal blood supply to the foot. It is exceedingly painful, and in severe cases as the laminae become more damaged, the integrity of the supporting layers is lost and the pedal bone within the hoof becomes unstable and can rotate downwards within the hoof and eventually penetrate through the horse’s sole.

Laminitis is unpredictable. It can affect just one or all four feet. The signs all relate to pain in the foot.


  • Reluctant to move; especially on hard surfaces or when turning in tight circles.
  • Stands with front legs extended forward and hind legs tucked under.
  • Placing feet heel first rather than toe first.
  • Heat at the coronary band and a palpable digital pulse midline at the back of the pastern.


  • Similar heel to toe gait.
  • Flat footed.
  • Characteristic rings on the hoof wall reflecting changes in horn growth associated with a previous episode.

Risk factors

  • Any breed, but common in overweight ponies taking inadequate and irregular exercise.
  • Obesity.
  • Overfeeding (a) access to excessive amount of cereals (b) young fresh grass.
  • Illness any condition causing a high fever.
  • Retained afterbirth post foaling.
  • Secondary to other conditions such as Cushing’s disease.
  • Subsequent to repeated concussion on a hard surface.
  • Injury to one leg causing excessive weight to be borne on the other leg.

In acute laminitis, the earlier treatment is begun the better the outcome.

Things to do

  • Stable on deep bed of shavings to give a soft bed to stand on.
  • Space to lie down to take the weight off the feet.
  • Allow sensible access to good quality roughage.

Chronic laminitis is not such an emergency, but still requires veterinary advice or attention.

Once the vet has confirmed the diagnosis, treatment will be started. The vet may recommend X rays of the feet to determine whether the pedal bone has rotated, or various blood tests if the initiating cause is not apparent.


Remove from cause i.e. bring inside.

  • Anti inflammatory pain relief.
  • Vasodilatation to improve blood circulation to the foot.
  • Frog supports applied to the feet, taking weight off the front hoof wall.


Once the horse is comfortable then the farrier can help to overcome the condition. Often there is damaged wall at the front of the hoof which can be rasped off and allow healthy horn to regrow. Modified shoes e.g. heart bars can be used to continue the support of the heels.



  • Keep feet well trimmed and balanced.
  • Carry on using bar shoes.
  • Control diet to avoid excess carbohydrate.
  • Use hay or haylage rather than excess cereals, limit access to fresh grass in spring and autumn flush.

 For ongoing prevention consider using “Founderguard™” which must be ordered by special prescription. This is an antibiotic used in the feed that lowers the risk of changes in the normal bacterial gut flora, and can be used to reduce the risk of laminitis developing.

 Further resources


This information is provided for information purposes to our registered clients. It is the individual opinion of veterinary surgeons within the practice. It should not be relied upon as an alternative to a clinical examination and diagnosis by a veterinary surgeon. If in any doubt please contact the practice for further advice.

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