Most horse owners will have heard of laminitis and be aware of the dangers, but how do you know if your horse or pony has it? The quicker laminitis is diagnosed the more likely he will make a full recovery. So, what symptoms should you look for?…
Laminitis is painful. Your horse’s feet will hurt so he will be reluctant to move. He may shift his weight from one foot to another and look dull and listless. As horse owner you know if your horse is acting differently – do his eyes look dull with a sad, dis-interested expression on his face?
During laminitis the blood circulation to your horse’s feet is restricted. This creates a pulse that can be felt at the back of the fetlock joint. With some healthy horses it can be difficult to detect a pulse at all, in others you will feel it gently, even when they are well. The key for a laminitic, is that the pulse will be ‘bounding’. It isn’t faster, but feels stronger due to the blood constriction pushing the blood back up the artery. It is a good idea to monitor your horse’s pulse so you know what it feels like normally and can therefore detect if it changes. Make sure you are not just detecting your own pulse in your thumb – the horse’s pulse is much slower than ours! (there are lots of online videos showing you how to detect the pulse)
The Laminitic Stance
The typical laminitis stance is where the horse leans back to take the weight on his hind quarters, with his painful front feet stretched out ahead. This is easily recognizable but other symptoms may help you detect the condition before it reaches this stage (and if he has laminitis in all four feet, you won’t see the typical stance)
Heat in the feet, in combination with the other symptoms, is a key indicator of laminitis. If heat is the only symptom it is more likely to indicate a hoof infection.
Laminitics are often ‘pottery’ on their feet because it hurts to put their weight on them. Their gait gives the impression that they are walking on hot coals – taking short, quick steps and their movement will be worse on hard ground rather than soft. It is important not to force your horse to walk if he doesn’t want to.
If your horse has any combination of symptoms from the above, take action immediately. Keep him stabled on a soft bed, feed soaked hay with no concentrates, and call the Vet. The sooner laminitis is diagnosed, the more successful the outcome will be.