FAQ


Are certain breeds more prone to get laminitis?
What are the known causes of laminitis?
My horse has laminitis, what is his/her long-term prognosis?
What is the difference between laminitis and founder?
What can I do to make my horse more comfortable with her laminitis?
What are the best times to allow grazing?
What exactly happens inside a horse’s hoof during the onset of laminitis?
Is there a correlation between degree of coffin bone rotation and survival?
Do weather events trigger laminitis? (hot summers, hard winters, etc.)
Is my overweight horse more at risk of developing laminitis?
Are some pasture grasses safer than others? Hays? Grains?
How many horses suffer from laminitis?
What is the first thing I should do if I suspect my horse is coming down with laminitis? Is there anything I can do while I wait for the vet?
Is laminitis reversible? Can the coffin bone rotate back to its pre-laminitis position?
My horse has recovered from laminitis and is sound. Is he more at risk than other horses for future problems?
How important is my farrier and veterinarian in laminitis recovery?
Has progress been made in laminitis research?
What can I do to help find a cure?
Where will my donation go?



Are certain breeds more prone to get laminitis?
No breed is safe from laminitis. Any horse, from a champion Thoroughbred to a back-yard pony, can get the disease. However all pony breeds, Arabians, Quarter horses, and American Saddlebreds seem to have a higher incidence of laminitis. Top

What are the known causes of laminitis?
Here is a list of several known things that can cause laminitis, several of which we as horse owners can control:
  • Obesity
  • Excess ingestion of grain
  • Excess ingestion of grass
  • Black walnut toxicosis (bedding a horse on black walnut shavings)
  • Exposure to corticosteroid drugs
  • Retained placentas in mares
  • Any gastro-intestinal abnormality within the horse (diarrhea or colic)
  • Laminitis can occur after severe bouts of myacitis, kidney failure, or severe lung disorders or after a horse has run a fever. Top
My horse has laminitis, what is his/her long-term prognosis?
There is no way to predict the outcome. Every case of laminitis is different. It even varies within the case from foot to foot as to the severity and what the long-term prognosis is. It takes 6 to 8 months to know what kind of recovery the horse is going to make. SMost horses that have a favorable prognosis show marked improvement during that 6 to 8 month period. Top

What is the difference between laminitis and founder?
Laminae are the structures within the hoof that connect the external hoof wall to the internal coffin bone. When the laminae are inflamed, the horse is said to have laminitis. When the bond between the bone and the hoof wall is damaged severely the bone starts to move inside of the hoof capsule, it moves downward or sinks. When that happens, the horse is said to have foundered. Founder is an old nautical term used to describe a sinking ship. Top

What can I do to make my horse more comfortable with her laminitis? (physically and emotionally)
This is a difficult question because the use of drugs to counter the pain of laminitis often encourages the horse to think they have recovered enough to move around. It may be in the horse’s best interest to lie down, and get the weight off the affected feet. So the use of pain medication must be monitored very carefully with restriction of their exercise, because too much movement can be detrimental to the long-term recovery of the horse. It’s important to keep the horse in an area that has a lot of soft bedding, and is large enough to move around a bit. From an emotional point of view, it’s much better if they have another horse that stays with them or in close proximity so that they don’t feel like they’ve lost their association with other animals. Having their best friend with them is a great idea! Top

What are the best times to allow grazing? (times of day, times of year)
What we know about grass laminitis is that there is a sugar called fructans in pasture grasses. Excessive ingestion of fructans is thought to cause laminitis in some horses. The level of fructans is excessively high levels in the spring and fall of the year, when we have cold nights and warm days with bright sunshine.

In early spring, when we have very cold nights, level of fructans are probably high in the plants all day long because they haven’t been utilized during the night. This is due to the plants being in a very low metabolic state due to the cold temperatures. In the latter part of spring, when we start to have warmer nights, the safest time of day to allow grazing would be in the afternoon and the early morning hours. In mid-summer after the plants have stopped flowering, in this stage of its growth the plant is the safest for the horse to eat. In the fall when the colder nights return and the days are still warm and sunny, even after a light frost the fructan levels can be very high.

The best times of year to allow total grazing are in the depth of winter or in mid-summer. Exact times vary by region. Top

What exactly happens inside a horse’s hoof during the onset of laminitis?
When the trigger factor (for which we are still searching) arrives in the horse’s foot, it triggers an event which activates the protease enzyme located within the basement membrane. When these protease enzymes are activated for too long a time, the basement membrane starts to slip away from the dermis. The destruction of the basement membrane by these protease enzymes results in a stretching of the laminae (this resembles a glove coming off of a finger). The result is the bone loses the support in the hoof capsule by the laminae. This lack of support causes the bone to sink into the hoof capsule. After this occurs the horse has severe laminitis, and when this tearing is happening and the coffin bone is sinking there are great amounts of micro hemorrhaging and inflammatory response in the foot.

Over the next 6 to 8 months the foot is in the process of trying to rebuild itself. It is not very well understood why this rebuilding process is more successful in some horses than others. We try to keep the horse from moving around very much when it is in the acute stage of the disease. Then gradually as the horse starts to heal and improve, we encourage them to move around. We think it ultimately helps the process of re-growing the hoof to occur much more normally if they have exercise. Top

Is there a correlation between degree of coffin bone rotation and survival?
For a number of years the degree of coffin bone rotation was used as a prognostic indicator as to whether the horse would be usable again. In the past few years this has proven to be an invalid method of evaluating how bad laminitis will be in a horse, and we no longer recommend using this as a prognostic tool. Many horses that have made recoveries and appear to lead fairly normal lives would have been put to sleep using the old guidelines. Top

Do weather events trigger laminitis? (hot summers, hard winters, etc.)
Other than the fact that weather influences fructans in the grass in the spring and fall of the year and the associated impact on grass laminitis, there is no evidence that any weather event can trigger laminitis.

We do see some correlation with horses that have chronic laminitis, some of these horses have Cushings disease or metabolic syndrome. Many of these horses have reoccurrences or an exacerbation of laminitis about a week following extremely hot weather. Similarly in the winter after very severe weather for a week or two, a week or so afterward we see an outbreak of a number of cases.It is not known whether this is stress-related or has to do with thermal problems in these horses’ feet. Top

Is my overweight horse more at risk of developing laminitis?
Yes. In study after study the most important factor in trying to prevent horses from getting laminitis is to make sure they do not become obese, either as babies or as adults. There is evidence that obese-related laminitis is the most common form of the disease that we presently see. We know that if these horses exercise and diet that they can become normal again not have abnormal blood work or have any reoccurring bouts of laminitis. So this is a preventable form of the disease if we can get the weight off of these horses. Please see our risk assessment for more information: Risk Assessment. Top

Estimate a horses' weight (75K PDF)

Are some pasture grasses safer than others? Hays? Grains?
What we know about pasture grass is that the lower the level of non-structural carbohydrates the safer the grass. The warm-season or C4 (i.e., native grasses, prairie grasses and Bermuda grass grasses) generally have a lower level of non-structural carbohydrates. The cool-season or C3 grasses, which includes the most common types of grass hay (i.e., timothy, orchard grass, brome, fescue, clover), have higher levels of non-structural carbohydrates.

We usually recommend not feeding alfalfa hay. And we recommend having the non-structural carbohydrate level in your hay evaluated. It should be less than 10% if being fed to a horse that has previously had laminitis.

All grains have the potential, if over-fed, to cause a starch overload in the hind gut. So you need to be careful not to over-feed grains. Top

How many horses suffer from laminitis?
In the USDA study conducted in 1998, 2.1% of the population of horses studied had had or were suffering from laminitis in the prior twelve months. Of that population of horses studied, 4.8% had to be put to sleep.
Those don’t seem like large numbers until you do the math. There are an estimated 8 million horses in the US. If 2.1% of them suffered from laminitis, that would be 168,000 cases in a year. And 8,064 of those horses would have to be put to sleep. Top

What is the first thing I should do if I suspect my horse is coming down with laminitis? Is there anything I can do while I wait for the vet?
The first thing to do is call your vet and try to get him/her to see the horse as soon as possible. The next thing to do is try to put the horse’s feet in ice water. Try to ice all four feet and legs up to the mid-cannon bone area with very cold or ice water. Do this as much as possible for at least 24 to 48 hours. This slows the activation of the protease enzymes in the feet and it also reduces the blood flow carrying the laminitis trigger factor to the foot.

For information regarding activation of the protease enzyme, see the question regarding what happens inside the horse’s foot during the onset of laminitis. Top

Is laminitis reversible? Can the coffin bone rotate back to its pre-laminitis position?
The horse will never be as sound as he would have been had he not had laminitis. However, laminitis is treatable and to some extent the effects of the disease can be reversed. Although many of the horses can have improvement after re-growing their foot, they will always show the effects of having had laminitis. Top

My horse has recovered from laminitis and is sound. Is he more at risk than other horses for future problems?
Yes. All horses that have had laminitis are in the highest risk category to redevelop the disease. It is very important to keep this horse from becoming obese, and to control his diet and grazing habits. Top

How important is my farrier and veterinarian in laminitis recovery?
These are the professional people who have the ability to evaluate the healing process inside of the horse, and also the condition of each of the four feet. It is essential that the horse owner, the farrier, and the veterinarian work together with good communication. Communication must be open between all three of these people for the benefit of the horse. It is imperative to the success of treating these cases. Top

Has progress been made in laminitis research?
Over the last 20 years much progress has been made in identifying the actual way that laminitis takes place. We have moved from understanding that it is now a disease that is caused by the over-activation of an enzyme system instead of a circulatory failure as we once thought. We have also traced the mechanism by which this occurs down to a molecular level. We know within which cells it occurs, and we are now looking at the molecular structure of the hemidesmosomes. These are the objects that start to come apart which allow the basement membranes to loosen and pull away. Top

What can I do to help find a cure?
Make a donation now to support laminitis research. The only way that we will ever be able to prevent laminitis is to understand completely how it is caused, what the trigger factor is, and the ways in which we can control that trigger factor. Without good laminitis research we will not be able to prevent the disease. Top

Where will my donation go?
One hundred percent of all public donations to the Animal Health Foundation go directly to fund laminitis research. All expenses incurred by the foundation are paid by the Board of Directors. More information on the researchers we support... Top