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LAMINITIS: Early Signs & What To Do

The feedback we receive from cases everywhere, all of whom have their different vets/farriers/trimmers/nutritional approaches, means we see what consistently works and what doesn’t.

Zorro being ridden
Zorro, fully recovered from dire laminitis!

Based on experience here are the nuts & bolts:


• Walking slowly/stiffly • Crest of the neck goes rock hard • Muscles look and feel tight • Farrier/trimmer notices ‘pinking’ (blood) in the white line • You can feel the Digital Pulse • Tender (‘footy’) on hard ground or over stones • Shifting their weight from foot to foot • Rocked back stance • Reluctance to move at all, worse when moving the fore-hand over • Lying down more than normal


1. URGENTLY move the horse to a 100% GREEN free area. We say green-free because many people have trouble grasping the concept of ‘grass-free’. This is where it is vital to be METICULOUS – cover up the area including under the fence lines and make sure they cannot reach over or under. This doesn’t have to be a big area in the emergency phase but it does need to be large enough that they can lie down comfortably. Make sure the horse cannot reach/access leaves from any overhanging trees. Leaves are leaves, and they are a no-no whether they are from trees, grass or fresh herbs. Wait until the horse is well over the episode before adding variety to their diet again.

Green shoots poking through
Still too much green grass poking through for any laminitic or head flicking horse!

2. Make sure the horse has 6 – 8 inches of SOFT material to stand on (bury in to) and lay down on. This can be sawdust, sand, pea gravel (as long as it is deep)

3. Contact your vet for assessment AND X-Rays especially if he is acute, and appropriate pain relief. People worry about giving Bute, but this is an occasion where you shouldn’t hesitate because the level of pain warrants the heavy duty artillery!

4. Feed soaked, rinsed and drained plain grass hay – all about how to do this here Absolutely NO Lucerne/alfalfa and check there is NO clover in the hay!

5. Quantity of hay: If the horse is overweight you can allow him to run out for 2 – 3 hours, otherwise make sure they do not run out – use small mesh hay nets to stretch it out, double-bagging if necessary.

6. While the horse is in crisis – no bucket feed (this includes anything with the laminitis tick) The horse WILL lose weight but priority is to get him out of the excruciating pain and have him moving freely. Putting weight back on later is the easy part, meantime lightening the load on those front hooves is desirable.

7. Once the horse is moving around of his own accord, start adding Premium MVA for essential nutrients needed to maintain health and facilitate tissue repair in the hoof.

8. TIME FRAMES: If you have ‘caught it’ BEFORE the laminae have ‘let go’, recovery will be relatively rapid. (A few days to a few weeks) However, if the laminae have ‘let go’ and the pedal bone has rotated downwards within the hoof capsule, there is now mechanical tissue damage and recovery will take much longer (9-12 months) because new connection has to grow down with the hoof-wall. X-rays are the only way to properly assess the damage inside the hoof.

Zorro – in the picture below, lived on sawdust footing for about a year, until the new connection had grown down.

9. While the horse is sore, never force movement. (Bring the food and water to him), but once he is moving around again of his own accord, boots become extremely useful.

10. Be very careful about trimming these horses while already sore – it should only be done by a hoof trimmer who is experienced with laminitis. The Laminitis Site is a FANTASTIC resource and for a small fee you can send x-rays to them and they will guide the trimming. The ‘Realignment Trim’ needs to be started straight away along with FULL Solar Support using properly fitting boots and pads. Smother the surface in contact with the sole with Manuka honey which keeps things sterile and prevents thrush. Change pads daily.

11. If you don’t know how to feel for the Digital Pulse, learn and get good at it and take it the same time every morning – here is a link on how to do this

12. While the horse is recovering, prepare a more extensive living area for him that is 100% grass free, promotes movement and allows him to make his own choices of shade and shelter. Click here for ideas on how to do this. If you want to be sure that your horse does not go down with Pasture Associated Laminitis or have a relapse if he has already had a bout, it is critical to be strict that he cannot access ANY green grass (short or long). Meticulous management is the key.

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Zorro, an ex-laminitic horse
The delightful Zorro (above) had laminitis with significant rotation of the pedal bone, worse in his near fore. He is now fully recovered and a fun riding horse. There is no sign in his hooves that he ever even had such serious laminitis. To be sure he never relapses he will always be kept (green) grass-free. He will eat his grass as hay! Photo: Cathy Dee

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