Recognizing Laminitis: Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Recognizing Laminitis: Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Knowing how to keep your horse happy and healthy is essential, which is why getting to know more about the various conditions and illnesses that could affect them is important. Recognising signs and symptoms of issues means action can be taken early, which often reduces the severity of the disease. Laminitis is a well-known issue among horse owners that affects a horse’s hooves, causing severe pain and making it difficult for them to move. Laminitis can develop for a number of reasons, which we will take a closer look at below, along with signs and symptoms, and how to diagnose the condition.

What is laminitis?

 Laminitis is a disease that involves the inflammation and deterioration of sensitive laminae within the hoof. This is the soft tissue that connects the coffin or pedal bone to the hoof wall, and when damaged, it can become detached, allowing the pedal bone to rotate down, which is extremely painful for the horse.

Most commonly, horses may suffer from laminitis as a secondary condition caused by being overweight or obese, which disrupts the normal functioning of hormones such as insulin, which regulate blood sugar levels. Other causes include systemic illness, sepsis  trauma to the hoof, or prolonged periods of excessive weight bearing, especially when standing on hard surfaces. With all of these possible causes, one aspect remains the same – the disruption of blood flow to the laminae within the hoof, leading to pain and discomfort.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Recognising the signs and symptoms of this condition means you can take  steps to combat it quickly and effectively. Here are some of the symptoms your horse may show if suffering from laminitis:

  • Lameness: This is one of the earliest signs of laminitis. You may notice your horse has altered its gait, having a much shorter stride typically, or just be reluctant to move.
  • Digital pulse: One way to determine whether your horse is suffering from laminitis is to feel the digital artery that’s located at the back of the fetlock. Assess the rate and strength of this pulse; if it feels unusually strong, often referred to as a bounding pulse, it indicates there is an issue with the blood supply to the hoof.
  • Heat in the hoof: As well as the above, you can check your horse’s hooves for increased blood flow that presents itself as heat in the hoof. Excessive warmth in comparison to the other hooves may point to laminitis.
  • Shifting weight: You may notice your horse shifting weight from one foot to the other as a way of relieving pressure on the affected hooves. They may shift weight to their back legs, which means they tend to tuck their hind limbs under their bodies They will also rock back onto their heels, as it is the front or toes of the front feet that are most commonly impacted. They may also shift their weight or change stance more frequently.


If you’ve noticed your horse displaying any of the above signs and symptoms of laminitis, seeking a veterinary diagnosis is essential. There are a few tests your vet can carry out to determine whether your horse is suffering from this condition. They will conduct a thorough examination of your horse, consider medical history, as well as diet and exercise routine. Your vet may carry out a hoof test to determine whether there is pain and inflammation present, as well as x-rays and blood tests to identify any abnormalities or underlying conditions that may have contributed to your horse’s discomfort.

Taking Action

To minimise any further damage to your horse’s hooves, there are a few ways in which you can take action to control the issue, which your vet can help you with. The first thing is to try to make your horse comfortable with deep, supportive bedding and minimise movement as much as possible. Your vet may prescribe medication to help reduce the swelling and pain and recommend increased hoof support and therapeutic shoeing to reduce pressure and aid weight distribution. Depending on the cause and your horse’s body weight status, dietary changes may be required. In general, low-sugar and starch rations are recommended, and a low-calorie ration may be required if your horse is overweight. Please seek advice from a qualified nutritionist for further guidance.

Back to top