Friday, January 28, 2011

Finding laminitis triggers

Let's talk about laminitis. (Really this is a ploy to distract readers from the fact that I don't have hoof pics from our trim last Saturday! Promise, I'll have them this weekend)

Laminitis is simply put: inflammation of the lamina. The lamina is the connective tissue between the coffin joint and the hoofwall. If you get inflammation in the lamina, the P3 (coffin bone) can drop (founder), and the lamina can detach and allow the hoof wall to be painfully stretched away from the hoof. Laminitis creates an unhealthy hoof that can become more predisposed to abscesses and infection.

You can have laminitis without founder. And while it is rare and usually mechanically induced, you can have founder without laminitis.

Unfortunately with this body response, each subsequent laminitic episode comes on stronger with less stimuli. This is similar to chronic pain or allergies in humans. Our bodies just streamline the message and make it worse and make us more sensitive to future events.

The best way to treat a horse prone to laminitis is to prevent an episode from ever occurring. Easier said than done.

And to do that, you have to figure out the cause.

What causes laminitis? Well, any number of things can trigger an episode. These range from metabolic syndromes to simply too much concussion to hoof. Unfortunately, each horse seems to be unique in the way that they not only display symptoms, but also in how he ends up with the inflammation.

Like the hoof journal (you better have one by now!), I find keeping a record of your horse will help you find the answer. Have a horse that has an annual episode at around the same time each year? Write down everything that was in common and not in common from year to year.

I didn't discover Buttercup's sugar sensitivity until I was reading back through this blog and saw that she had the same exact problem last spring (and the spring before). And problems in the fall. A pattern emerged from my record keeping of her hoof issues.

Unfortunately, if you cannot find a trigger through patterns then you're in for either subsequent laminitic episodes or expensive tests through the vet (which may or may not find the underlying issue at all).

Here are some of the known triggers:

• Sugar (usually spring or fall grass, sweet feed or consumption of anything high in sugar like weeds)
• Concussive forces (trotting an unfit horse a few miles on a paved road? Hello, laminitis)
• Medicine/dewormers (According to Claudia Garner, there is some evidence that medicine can upset the hindgut and that can in turn send inflammation to the hooves)
• Extreme cold (According to safergrass, cold can trigger a laminitic episode in laminitic-prone horses)

To learn more about laminitis, here is some good reading:

Laminitis is a symptom with many causes. They include high insulin levels, excessive
concussion, excessive weight bearing due to injury on other limbs, carbohydrate overload (binge eating), retained placenta, colic, any systemic illness, bedding with black walnut shavings, ingestion of toxic plants, and excessive use of steroids. The treatment that is most successful for an individual case requires removal of the cause.


Once a horse has had more than one attack of laminitis they are considered ‘chronic’ and more susceptible. Damaged laminae are more vulnerable to triggers for future episodes.
They may experience hoof pain from being overdue for a trim that puts mechanical stress on damaged tissue.


For horses with reoccurring, chronic laminitis keeping a journal is very useful. Make notes
about any changes in diet such as a new batch of hay, bagged feed or new supplement.
Make notes on hoof appearance and care, exercise, vaccinations, significant changes in
weather, changes in general demeanor. Sometimes a pattern will develop that will allow
you to discover a previously unrecognized trigger.

How did you discover your horse's trigger? How do you prevent it?

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