Ask the Vet: Laminitis

Question: Are older horses at higher risk for suffering bouts of laminitis? Answer: Older horses have a reputation for laminitis, however most cases of aged laminitis are the result of a systemic condition in older horses.

Written by Karen Blake, DVM, Park City, Utah 

There are two conditions which can contribute to this – Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Equine Cushing’s Disease (CD). EMS commonly occurs in horses around 12-15+ years of age and it has similarities to Type II diabetes in humans. CD usually occurs in slightly older equids around 18+ years. Both conditions cause an inflammatory state in the horse which causes inflammatory mediators to be released in the lamina and create a laminitic condition. Both of these conditions can be tested for and controlled with management changes or medications, so it is important to speak with your veterinarian about your aging horse.


Question: Do horses survive when the tip of the pedal bone penetrates the sole?

Answer: The answer to this question is yes, they can. However, the bone must have blood supply, which can be elucidated from a venogram and the horse must be put in the proper mechanics to allow the deep digital flexor tendon to have less pull. This can be accomplished by applying a Nanric Ultimate shoe, which allows the veterinarian or farrier to remove the shoe periodically to clean the sole region where the bone has penetrated.


Question: How and when should you introduce a laminitic horse back to grass, using a grazing muzzle?

Answer: It depends why the horse became laminitic. If it was associated with an illness or impact event, then grass restriction isn’t usually an issue. If it is due to the horse having EMS, it really depends on what is going on in the horse’s weight management. For example, if a horse gets severely laminitic each year with grass coming on, they should be restricted before heavy spring growth and should only get turned out overnight (brought in during the day). If they are overweight currently or they have fat deposits and a high insulin level, they need to be off grass until those deposits lessen and their insulin level has returned to normal.


Question: I have an 8-year-old Halflinger mare that foaled, but had laminitis in her front hooves. Her feet were trimmed and is currently doing well, six months later. Do I need to worry about her on grass?

Answer: Many pregnant/perinatal mares can go through a laminitis bout. This is often a result of an underlying issue during pregnancy such as insulin resistance (EMS)/being overweight or a placentitis (infection of the placenta) or retained placenta. Figuring out why the mare foundered specifically would tell you whether grass would be an issue for her.