Posted in  Understand Hoof Health  on  30 December, 2013 by  Debs Crosoer

Well that’s a bit of a defeatist attitude isn’t it! Stay with me here, there’s hope I promise… Horses can get over laminitis, I’m just not sure they can be cured of it.

You see, laminitis isn’t a disease, really. Firstly, lets define some terms so we’re all on the same page, and debate is centered about the actual issue rather than simple terminology.

Laminitis means inflammation of the laminar. (Anything ending in ‘itis’ means inflammation.)

Founder means the pedal/coffin bone has moved within the hoof capsule, either rotated or sunk

Disease – I’m going with the Oxford English Dictionary here
a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury: bacterial meningitis is quite a rare disease

Symptom – again, thank you Oxford English Dictionary
a physical or mental feature which is regarded as indicating a condition of disease, particularly such a feature that is apparent to the patient: dental problems may be a symptom of other illness

A symptom is a warning sign, it lets you know there’s a problem in the body. It is often part of the way the body deals with a problem like a disease, injury or other condition.

Sadly the definition of a cure in the Oxford English Dictionary is this:

– relieve (a person or animal) of the symptoms of a disease or condition:he was cured of the disease
– eliminate (a disease or condition) with medical treatment:this technology could be used to cure diabetes

I agree that eliminating a disease or condition is a cure, but I’d strongly disagree that relieving symptoms is a cure.

Here’s an example that’s fairly close to home for me. I currently have a slipped disc in my lumbar spine. My main symptom is sciatica. I also have (for me) restricted mobility in my lumbar spine. Painkillers relieve my symptoms (though there are many side effects). Painkillers in no way do anything to address the actual problem in my spine.

Treating symptoms is a little like hearing a fire alarm, and rather than putting the fire out, you simply turn off the fire alarm. You could remove the bell or take away the power source from the alarm. You could even put your fingers in your ears and shout ‘la la la’ (which was my prefered choice when my back got stiff – seriously – I don’t recommend it!)

It’s fairly obvious that it would be a better option to put out the fire. Unfortunately in the western world, ignoring symptoms is so common it’s thought of as normal, even good management. We’re all sitting there, having quieted the alarm wondering why we’re getting hot and finding it difficult to breath.

If you doubt this, then take a good look around at how easily available painkillers are. You can buy them everywhere. They’re often right up by the till where the ‘impulse buys’ are put. Just like sweeties. Pain isn’t an inconvenience, it doesn’t happen because your body has made a mistake. It happens because your body is telling you something needs your attention. It happens because your body is working correctly!

What’s all this got to do with laminitis? Well laminitis is a symptom.

Inflammation – I used an online medical dictionary for this one
a protective tissue response to injury or destruction of tissues, which serves to destroy, dilute, or wall off both the injurious agent and the injured tissues. The classical signs of acute inflammation are pain (dolor), heat (calor), redness (rubor), swelling (tumor), and loss of function (functio laesa).

The problem is that laminitis is a really serious problem. It really grabs your attention and doesn’t let it go. When you see it in your horse it’s all you can think about. It’s essential to address it. I agree with that. Relieving the pain is really important to recovery. Management of the symptom is essential.

What’s also important is to remember what you’ve done. You’ve managed the symptom. You still need to find and address the cause of the inflammation, which is very rarely found in the feet, so make sure you look up, above the coronary band 🙂

Why are the feet so susceptible to laminitis. Well remember what laminitis is, it’s inflammation. Anything that causes inflammation in the body is likely to cause some level of inflammation in the hooves. Horses can cope with very low levels of inflammation in their hooves, it’ll show up as flare, fast growth, uneven growth, among other things.

It has such a massive effect on the hooves, because the hoof capsule doesn’t stretch very well. The rest of the skin will stretch to accommodate a little inflammation without too much trouble. The hoof capsule, not so much.

Ironically, the stronger the hoof capsule, the more susceptible to inflammation it is because the hoof capsule is packed full of dense soft tissue, and the hoof horn is that much stronger so will be less able to stretch when there’s extra fluid (inflammation) inside it.

Not convinced? How about these well known statements

‘Good cob feet’
‘Ponies don’t need shoes, they’ve got strong hooves’
‘Strong native hooves’

Now, lets compare that to horses most prone to laminitis…. Cobs, ponies, native breeds. It’s commonly thought that they get laminitis because they’re good doers, and fat horses are laminitic. I don’t believe that. I believe that the thing that is causing the horse to be fat is the same thing that’s causing the laminitis.

That could be just semantics, but here’s the thing. If you can remove the cause of the inflammation, then the horse will be comfortable, and the weight will sort itself out. If you just try to remove the fat… well, you’re treating the symptom again. I agree, it should be addressed, but I’d rather start with the actual problem.

When an overweight person goes on a healthy diet, they often lose 2 or 3 times the weight in the first week than they will in the second week. It’s not unusual for someone with a few stone to shed, to lose ½ a stone in the first week. Often this large amount of weight loss is chalked up to ‘water weight’.

It’s regarded that losing that water weight isn’t as good or as important as losing the 1-2lbs of fat they’ll lose each week as the diet continues. But that water weight is there because the body is inflamed and toxic. It’s shed as soon as the diet is changed. It’s not shed once the fat is gone.

The fat, and the inflammation (laminitis) is there because of the problems in the diet. Change the diet and the inflammation goes away really quickly. Far more quickly than the fat. So it can’t be the fat that’s causing the inflammation. This is really important. Read it a few times if you have you to.

What this means is, you can get rid of the inflammation very quickly if you make the right changes. You don’t have to wait months for the fat to be worked off for the inflammation to go. Turn this back into a discussion about hooves and you can remove the pain in the feet very quickly, long before you get the weight off your horse.

What’s more, if they’re not getting out of pain quickly, you haven’t yet removed the cause of the inflammation.

Treating symptoms is a little like playing whack-a-mole. Unlike whack-a-mole, which I think is rather fun, it’s hard work, time consuming, costly and often leaves you so distracted and stressed you have little energy to address the root cause.

Symptoms do need to be managed though. They’re real, and often unpleasant. I’m not saying your hard work of managing the symptoms of laminitis is unnecessary. What I’m saying is, if you want to make real improvements, you need to find the root cause.

Inflammation isn’t too far different from a bruise. It’s on a larger scale, and tends to have a different cause, but they’re fairly similar conditions. You’d never try to ‘cure’ a bruise. It sounds a little ridiculous. You’d remove the cause of the bruise (ie you’d remove your coffee table from your shin. Probably not from your house though).

You’d be unlikely to wonder what 1 thing causes a bruise. You could say a bruise is caused by enough pressure to tissue to cause blood vessels to rupture. On the other hand you could say a bruise was caused by your coffee table. You wouldn’t suggest everyone remove coffee tables from their life, and you’d freely accept there are other causes of bruising out there.

Equally, if you had a bruise that went away, and then you got another bruise a few days, weeks, years later. You’d never say the bruise had come back. You’d recognise it as a totally different event. Maybe you’d curse for having walked into the coffee table again, but you’d still recognise it as a separate event from the last time.

The same can be said for laminitis, you don’t get laminitis back, you get inflammation again, sometimes for the same reason, sometimes for different reasons. There are limitless reasons for inflammation (sadly).

Horses can, and do, get over laminitis. Often there is no lasting damage, sometimes, unfortunately, there is. The trick is to recognise it as early as possible, and identify and remove the cause.

What do you think?
Has laminitis been a problem for you?
Has this post made you think differently about it?
Do you think I’m wrong and a little bit odd?
Tell me what you think in the comments below…


Laminitis Warning Signs

Laminitis can affect any horse...

Does your horse suffer with Foot Soreness, Persistent Hoof Infection, Wall Cracks, Flare, or Underrun heels?

These problems can be signs of low grade laminitis. Inflammation (laminitis) in the hoof can cause deformity and soundness issues. Trying to fix the hoof without identifying and addressing the inflammation feels like pushing mud uphill.

Do you know what to look for? We discuss 35 different early warning signs that inflammation is affecting the hoof, explaining anatomy and function, what laminitis is, how it affects the horse and hooves and practical things you can do to address the problem without losing your mind!

About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

  • I think you are so right and more detailed than most. I’ve noticed one of my horses seems to gain50 pounds over night if he eats alfalf. Take it away and he shrinks within a couple days. Thank you . I’m going to search for the inflammatory cause . Eileen Moser

    • It can be difficult to spot these things. Or sometimes easy to see them, but hard to figure out what’s caused it. Particularly difficult when it’s something as common as alfa, so well done 🙂

    • It’s important to identify what caused the laminitis. Was it a toxin, poor environment and diet, PPID, EMS, illness or virus, allergy…

      Once that has been identified and addressed you want a forage based diet, corrective trimming, movement (assuming they’re comfortable enough). Boots and pads can help for comfort.

  • I love reading your posts Debs as you explain things so well and make me want to research further and understand more….great teacher!

  • Makes perfect sense to me. I’m lucky in the sense I’ve never had a horse with laminitis, neither have I had one colic (other than a TB that ate a straw bed and bunged herself up) I only feed grass nuts/chopped grass and a decent supplement and like to think this has something to do with it? I think people are looking more at nutrition and what they are putting into their horses these days – which can only be a good thing?

  • Wow, what a lovely post! As an owner of a pony who dealt with laminitis it’s al very familiar. I went from people telling me what to do but never really doing an effort in searching the cause to finding people who truly wanted tot help us and not just to make money. We found the cause, took care of it and now my lovely pony is doing very great! So yes, I agree 100% with this post!

      • I have a cushion pony on 1/2 tab per day. He keeps on getting sore feet and laminitis.
        I am going to take him away from his 4ft square patch of grass he is allowed per day. His diet is timothy haylage, soaked hay, sugar beet,
        And hay chaff. A little water melon and some hay nuts in a ball. 4 times per day
        He can be ok for a while but varies in foot soreness

        He is now lame with his boots on.
        I have decided to keep to no grass, I have made a small track system
        For him but he finds a bit of grass, weeds.
        I am thinking
        of allowing in a small school for a few hours and in a yard and barn.
        However, he is so miserable being kept like this and all he whats to do
        Is go out to graze.
        I am thinking if he has to existed in this management I would think it would be better to put him down.
        He is a lovely driving pony and does tricks, even lie down for me.
        Even in pain and cannot walk he appears to be happy,loving, kind and wants to eat.
        I am at my wits end, I love this pony, but cannot keep a pony in pain.
        Any ideas, suggestion would appreciated.

  • Very interesting thoughts…
    My life long dealings with horses and ponies still finds me learning every day..
    I can never remember even hearing the word Laminitis. ..when I was younger…Ponies were worked much more and fed a lot less…No fancy feeds..and lived much more as nature intended…
    Maybe the modern way we keep our ponies…all cosy..rugged up…and fed all manner of fancy foods and supplements is not such a good idea as we now think it is…because laminitis. .EMS and PPID seem to be on the increase year on year…I think it must be diet and modern management related…

    • Part of it is that I’m sure, but I’ve also noticed that back when we rarely heard of laminitis, we also rarely heard about allergies, food intolerance, hormone imbalance, and various syndromes in people. Sadly our world just isn’t as healthy as it used to be and it’s beginning to take it’s toll on all of us. Also, back then, horses tended to be replaced rather than fixed.

  • I have a mini horse Tobiano. He came to us last January and has been fine all summer. Now showing signs of Laminitis. He’s moving around but sore footed. He was on small amounts of bute for 5 days but still showing signs of sore footed. I’ve been keeping a supply of hay and have limited their pastures. Any advice would be very appreciated!

    • I always want to look for the cause first, and remove that if possible. Often the cause is too much grass, but that’s by no means the only cause. Balancing the gut is important, if you’re in the UK then I recommend this for most laminitis cases I see (they will post outside of the UK too if you call them and ask. Pretty much anywhere but New Zealand I think – nothing against NZ, it’s the import laws that prevent it)

  • I Debs couldn’t agree more my 5 year old Connie underweight, got severe laminitis last year over 19 degrees of rotation in one foot and rotation in the other three. I panicked as the vets wanted to put him down. We rushed him to Troytown a three hour drive many months and thousands of pounds later he came home. Same thing happened this year but I contacted a research vet and very good barefoot trimmer together we discovered he was IR . So diet change and correctional trim had made all the difference. In Troytown they were feeding him mollase feed ! They didn’t indetify the cause just treated the symptom !

    • Top of the list in an imbalanced diet. Too much grass being the biggest problem there. Malnutrition for fatties I think… Everyone focuses on them being fat rather than malnourished. We know starvation diets for humans are terrible, but still seem to like them for horses for some odd reason.

      Arthritis is a big one, it could be argued that it’s technically not causing laminitis, but it’ll look and behave exactly like it – probably more low grade laminitis that full on foundering.

      Endocrine problems are a major cause of founder.

      If we’re just talking mild inflammation though, I’d look at diet, joints and illness first (virus etc)

  • this has helped me to understand laminitis better. I think my horse may have had this occur. He is sound, but it is scary to think he may suffer again.

    • less scarey when you know what to look for. Any animal with a hoof can suffer really. When you pick up on it early it’s much easier to address 🙂 I’m glad the article helped

  • I just discovered your facebook page this week and love it! You have a wonderful way of explaining things, something I am terrible at. I share your posts often on my own natural hoof care business page so my clients can benefit from it also!!

  • Does reading this count as CPD? Great stuff Debs, always good to read your thoughts, you’re quite good at this arn’t you…? : )


    • Sure – why not… it’s erm… research? 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words! I’ve been putting lots of time and effort into it so I’m glad it’s actually helping a few people 🙂


  • I think laminitis is caused by the way horses are kept, on rich lush grass. Having read Jamie Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise, I do believe that by changing the way a horse is kept and fed, encouraging a lifestyle as close as possible to that of wild horses, then laminitis can be reversed. Obviously this will not happen overnight and can take years depending on the damage done. But the treatment of laminitis is a whole horse action, so nutrition, hooves (barefoot of course) and lots and lots of movement. Wild horses don’t get life threatening laminitis.

  • sorry to hear about your back, been there, done that – got spinal touch – absolutely brilliant. Do consider spinal touch, non invasive, very relieving, pleasant and very healing in my case.

  • Thanks for a very informative essay, from an Appaloosa and a TB dapple owner. Happy New Year to you too!!! You have just blighted 2014 for us.

    We moved in the summer from sand/gravel/forestry (Cannock Chase) area to Bodmin moor, which is peat with granite sticking out of it. We are now fighting laminitis for the first time in my 60 odd years of owning horses. What impact does soil type have on laminitis? Is there anything to be done to lessen the damage. After spending all our savings on a small holding, thinking we could be self sufficient as far as the horses are concerned anyway; we are now spending our pension on hay, which is hard to find in Cornwall! All the horse owners seem to use haylage, which I am not familiar with. My bf lady says just stick to ad lib hay and keep em off the grass altogether.

    • 🙂 Sorry Barbra, I have a tb dapple myself – actually he has great feet and no sign of inflammation, so it’s not a rule or anything, just something I’ve noticed. Again, I don’t get to see all horses, I only get to see the horses with a big enough problem that the owners have had to seek me out and employ me. I strongly believe there must be healthy appys out there!

      In terms of soil and laminitis, richer soil will get you richer grass which is more likely to cause inflammation problems. I see laminitis as an accumulative effect of everything going on in the horse. Rich grass does seem to come up trumps as far as culprits go though.

      Sandy soil is awesome, it’s good for the hooves externally and it seems to produce more suitable grazing/nutrition too.

      The question seems to be what to do when your grass isn’t as suitable as you’d like.
      Not everyone has the option of moving yards, though that is the most obvious way of dealing with the problem. (I think that’s called a ‘shoot the dog’ method)

      There’s a saying in fitness that you can’t out train a poor diet. In other words you can spend 5 hours a day in the gym, but if your diet is pizza and doughnuts and lots of them, you’re still going to have a fat problem rather than a 6 pack.

      The same applies to a horses diet (though granted, I’ve never seen a 6 pack on a horse no matter what they eat or how long the spend in the gym). If they’re eating grass that is too rich, and that grass makes up the bulk of their diet, then you’re going to have trouble.

      One option is to restrict the grazing, but sugar is addictive, and the disruption it can cause to gut bacteria can make you desperate for it (that’s in both horses and humans). You can find that your horse stuffs so much grass in, in the few hours of grazing they get that it causes other issues, not to mention the horses willing to risk life and limb to tear down a fence to get more and then refusing to be caught.

      There’s a few things I’ve found that can help. First off, top of the list, is this little gem (I buy the 5lt bottles when I’m feeding it). It helps horses manage grass that is too rich. Many of my clients have found that feeding it means they don’t have to work nearly so hard at various grazing restriction techniques.

      Next up – how hungry is your horse? The brain tells us to eat when it needs nourishment. It doesn’t tell us what to eat (at least I don’t think I’ve developed an extreme chocolate deficiency this Christmas). If the body wants magnesium, or calcium or protein or whatever, the brain just tells us to eat, it doesn’t tell us what to eat. Nom!

      This can cause a problem if the bulk of the diet is deficient in something. The brain keeps telling the horse to eat, so the horse eats more and more of what’s available – the grass – the rich grass that’s full of stuff he doesn’t need but deficient in something the body is crying out for. It doesn’t matter what it’s high in or low in, the result is way too much of something and still not enough of something else. This results in toxicity in whatever is high and deficiency in what is missing, which causes inflammation and still a strong, primal drive to eat more. (this is one of the main reasons people who diet, and eat diet food are hungry all the time – it doesn’t have what their body needs in it)

      So what does this mean? If we have well balance nutrition, then the messages to ‘go eat’ will be reduced. So a good all round, balanced supplement can really help.

      If you’re restricting grazing by only turning out for part of the day then giving food (feed/hay whatever works) before they go out, so they’re not going out hungry can help a lot.

      To be honest it can depend a lot on the personality of the horse, some horses live by their stomach, others aren’t that fussed. There’s lots of ways to do things, it’s finding what suits you and your horses, for your current environment that’s important.

      Phew! I think perhaps this should be my next blog post!

      • Thanks so much, tb has great feet bf happy, not greedy. Appy had great feet, til we got here, put up a track system, feeding hay ad lib, but the one hind hoof is so sore he will not leave the. Stable, even to get a drink, he has two small holes in back of frog and he is holding that hoof off the ground most of time.

        Gave him a bute, soaked it in warm saline, still sore. Wish I kept cats some days.


  • Great article Deb as ever! Love the analogy with the coffee table! Coffee tables are awful things and banned from my house! Lol! Do you think there is a role for genetics in how prone each horse is to laminitis?:-)

    • Yeah I do. There’s always the nature/nurture thing going on but I definitely think genetics has a role to play. I’ve never seen a Appaloosa who didn’t have an inflammation problem. However, I don’t know how reliable that is as an observation as people who have horses with inflammation issues are more likely to come to me for help. If there’s no inflammation, you’re probably not looking for help. I’d be delighted to hear there’s appys without inflammation issues.

      A few years ago I was working out in Spain. I saw 8 horses in 1 day. I said exactly the same thing for 7 of the 8 horses. Felt like a broken record, felt like it must have looked like I only new 1 thing.

      I joked about the fact it must be because they were grey. All 7 were grey, the one who was different was brown. While I knew it wasn’t there colour that was the problem, it did prompt the information that 6 of the 7 horses were out of the same stallion, the last of the 7 was out of one of those 6.

      I asked to see the stallion. Couldn’t, he’d recently been put down for laminitis. All of them, to some degree showed the same problem at the same time. That’s more anecdotal that scientific, but until we start getting research on real laminitics rather than artificially induced laminitis in test horses, we’re never going to find the answers we’re looking for.

      • Great article, thank you. Agree totally.
        Is there another which covers what we need to do?
        I have an appy with inflammation. He has PSSM1 and is a chunky build so i am guessing he has proportionately more weight on his hooves than a lighter built horse?

        • Hi Sara, Yes, he has proportionally more weight on his hooves but you should be able to get him comfortable. If he has PSSM1 then I’d concentrate on that. The kind of diet needed for a horse with PSSM also works for laminitics. There are some differences, and the PSSM diet is the more comprehensive of the 2. Focus on that and the laminitis should improve as well.

  • Great article Deb as ever! Love the analogy with the coffee table! Coffee tables are awful things and banned from my house! Lol! Do you think there is a role for genetics in how prone each horse is to laminitis?:-)

  • Well done Debs. what you are doing here is fabulous… I think if more horse & pony owners had awareness and got back to keeping their animals closer to nature then a lot of pain and suffering would be dramatically reduced.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Horses, ponies, humans, cats, dogs (probably other animals too), not sure how we got into a state where we’re fighting nature all the time. It gotta be a better life to agree with her, she’s been at this living thing so much longer than we have 🙂

      • One of my horses was showing some discomfort and I was wondering if she was reacting to grass. When my farrier came to trim her he said I should dry pen her, which I did. When he came back to trim her the next time and trimmed her front feet there was what I am presuminging blood around her hoof probably where the white line is or next to it, have you ever seen this. He said he thinks she did founder.

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