Many horses have a disease called Laminitis. Until today there are a lot of different research results which try to explain the origins of this disease. In general Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. In the worst case the disease can cause that the hoof wall becomes separated from the hoof- a terrible imagination and in the most cases this means that the horse is not able to walk anymore. Due to this it is really important that riders and horse owners know about this disease and know how to prevent and deal with it.
Origins of Laminitis
Laminitis is a disease and means a disturbance of the blood circulation which is located near the laminae of the hoof. Generally this can be caused through a release of endotoxin in the horses’ body. This release can refer to different things so that we can split the origins in several groups:
1. Lamination due to wrong feeding
In most cases Laminitis has its origins in a metabolic disease of the horse which can be difficult to diagnose. A metabolic disease refers to a wrong feeding: horse owners always just want the best for their horse and feed too much nourishment. Due to this the metabolic disease is based on an oversupply of carbohydrates (for a long time researchers falsely thought that an oversupply of proteins is the reason for the disease). If horses eat too many carbohydrates (sugar, starch, fructan) this may cause an acute situation of Lamination which has to be prevented. The carbohydrates enter the colon and cause a surplus of acidity. Due to this the body releases endotoxin (toxic materials). The endotoxin influences the blood circulation and causes the Laminitis. There is nearly the same reaction if a lot of cold water enters the body: the intestinal flora becomes damaged so that the body releases endotoxins.
Additionally Laminitis can be caused through another wrong behavior of horse owners: if they feed too much of a certain nutrient and at the same time the horse does not have enough movement the horse soon will have an overweight. The horse provides fat depositions and these may cause a metabolic disease. Referring to research results scientists found out that horses can also have the special disease called metabolic syndrome. This is a disease of the energy- and sugar metabolism. The real danger of the metabolic syndrome is the fact that horses can already have it for a long time without having any visual symptoms. It can cause a chronic situation of Laminitis.
2. Laminitis due to wrong movement
This type of Laminitis is based on a wrong movement and can be caused through different situations. In general the reason is a sudden overloading and overstraining. After a long period of little movement the horse suddenly gets moved a lot. Additionally hard ground can support this type of Laminitis. In other cases one hoof has an injury so that for reasons of compensation the other hoof becomes overloaded.
3. Laminitis due to poisoning
If poison, for example in form of poisonous plants, enters the body of the horse there is the same reaction as if too many carbohydrates reach the colon. Due to this the body releases endotoxins which disturb the blood circulation.
4. Laminitis due to medicine
Some ingredients of medicine can cause Laminitis. Referring to this vets strongly advise horse owners not to use any medicine with a high concentration of cortisone.
5. Laminitis due to other diseases
Horses with a disease which forces them not to move often get Laminitis. In this cases Laminitis is a sequela. Additionally thyroid diseases, colics and intestinal inflammations cause a release of endotoxins.
Course of Laminitis
Laminitis is an acute inflammation which causes a disturbed blood circulation. Due to the inflammation the whole area around the hoof and the hoof itself becomes warm. Furthermore tissue fluid and blood runs out of the blood vessels of the lamellae. If the inflammation takes time for longer than 48 hours doctors call it a chronic situation of Laminitis.
Horses with Laminitis – First aid
Laminitis is a dangerous disease and can cause significant injuries. Due to this it is really important that horse owners immediately call a vet if they notice a typical symptom. Until the vet arrives the horse owner can begin to cool the inflamed hoof. Just take some cooled bandages and wrap them around the hoof and the leg. Through this procedure the process of the inflammation gets inhibited and the pain becomes soothened. In any case the horse owner needs to change the nourishment of the horse. The vet needs to create an individual diet plan but generally one can follow these basic principles: most of the horses with Laminitis have an overweight. Consequently these horses need to have a strict diet and need to lose weight. The basic nourishment for these horses is hay and straw (more hay than straw). Before you feed the hay it needs to be watered what means that it lies in a bucket for one hour. Through this watering the hay looses 30 % of its carbohydrates. The horse owner must not feed carrots or apples. If he feeds roughages he needs to watch out that it only provides a little portion of proteins and fructan. In general it is important that the horse stands on a soft ground and that he is free of any troubles and stress.
Effect of a Laminitis
The effect of a Laminitis is dependent on the course of the disease. In cases of an advanced stage of this illness the coffin bone can sink into the capsule of the hoof. Furthermore the hoof can rotate around the joint of the hoof. Any chronic change of the position or structure of the hoof is called “founder”. The end of the coffin bone presses against the sole of the hoof. The hoof tries to compensate the weight and reduces parts of the substance of the bones. In the worst case the capsule of the horse separates from the rest of the hoof. In this case vets often advise to end the life of the pained horse. In this stage of the illness the medical treatment does not seem as a better alternative: the horse needs to lie or hang for at least two years and even after this hard and long time there is no guarantee for a success of the therapy.
Diagnoses of Laminitis
Laminitis can cause terrible injuries and pain what stresses the importance of an early diagnosis. In general it is very difficult to notice Laminitis before an acute inflammation of the hoof. If the horse already has the inflammation there are symptoms which clearly have to be recognized by the horse owner or rider. Normally the hoof wall or sole and the coronary band of the hoof provide an increased temperature. The rider needs to notice if the horse walks in a different way: if he only walks with short and stiff steps or even refuses to walk at all the rider can check if the horse has a Laminitis. The rider can try out if the horse stays in his stiff position even if he bends him. Additionally one can check the pulse of the horses´ legs: just lay a finger on the hind side of the fetlock and measure the pulse. If the horse has a rapid pulse and if he easily feels pain by just touching the hoof these facts clearly are further symptoms for a disease. Furthermore a horse has some natural positions to relieve a diseased hoof: if the front legs have a Laminitis the horse tries to relieve them so that he puts all his weight on his hind legs. If he does so it looks as if he would stretch his front legs off his body. In opposite to this he pushes his front legs backwards if his hind legs hurt. In this case for reasons of compensation he additionally lowers his head and alternately puts up one hind leg. Additionally the horse has a high frequency of his pulse and fever. The horse appears restless, prefers to lie down on the ground instead of standing and has panic attacks. In a chronic situation of a Laminitis one can find rings on the wall of the hoof.
Prevention of Laminitis
Normally a horse needs living conditions which are appropriate to his species. This means enough movement because this is the easiest way to prevent overweight. The horse owner needs to feed in a balanced way so that crude nourishment should be preferred. Furthermore one has to watch out for the ingredients of silages: some grasses like rye grass or clover have a lot of carbohydrates. Together with proteins they cause a Laminitis due to wrong feeding.
Regularly riders must maintain not only the coat but also the hooves of the horse and need to remove all toxic plants from the pastures. Riders should prefer soft ground for the box and especially if the horse trots or canters. Vets advise to bend cool bandages around the horses´ legs after long and exhausting rides. Horses that easily have Laminitis must not stand on the pasture for too long. In some periods of the year grasses offer more proteins and carbohydrates than in other times- due to this the rider needs to vary the time how long the horse can graze.
Medical treatment of Laminitis
In a chronic situation of Laminitis the rider immediately needs to call a vet. The vet will start to aid the blood circulation and soothen the pain. In general vets advise the riders not to move their horses so that they just stay in their box. Through this the horse feels pain as less as possible. In some cases of a medical therapy vets use gypsum: through this the horse has to put his weight on other parts of the body so that the sick hoof becomes relieved on the load. Additionally this can prevent a rotation of the coffin bone. Dependent on the situation of the Laminitis the gypsum only covers the hoof or the whole part until the joint of the front leg (only vets can put on this type of gypsum). It is really important that the gypsum has its right position: if he does not a wound can appear which often results in infections. A further treatment is the so called Bloodletting. The vet takes about five to ten litres of blood from the horse (dependent on the weight of the horse). In any case he tries to take as less as possible so that he prevents a circulatory collapse. Through this procedure the blood of the horses looses toxins so that the blood becomes cleaned. Additionally the vet feeds substitutes like electrolytes and saline.
An important part of the therapy is represented through the farrier. Most of the farriers have a lot of experience with horses with Laminitis so that they often are able to help and answer questions. He can shape little gaps for straining so that the hoof becomes relieved and the pain soothened. In some cases the farrier takes off the front of the wall of the toe so that the toe becomes relieved and the horse needs to put the weight on other parts of the hoof. In general vets say that it is impossible to ride a horse with a rotation of the hoof which is bigger than 12°.
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