Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors for Equine Hoof Conditions

By Gladiator Equine

June 14, 2024

Equine laminitis is a serious and often painful condition affecting the hooves of horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules. The condition can drastically impact a horse’s quality of life, leading to intense pain if not properly managed.

For equestrians and horse owners, recognizing and understanding symptoms of laminitis in horses is crucial as early intervention can make a significant difference in the outcome of the condition. Knowing the signs can help you take preventive measures to protect your equine companions.

Gladiator Equine can educate you on the nature of this condition, including its causes, prevention, diagnosis, management, prognosis, and symptoms of laminitis in horses.

The Anatomy of a Horse’s Hoof Wall

Before we cover what laminitis in horses is, let’s better understand the anatomy at play. The horse’s hoof consists of the outer wall, which is the hard, protective outer shell; the sole, a thick, tough surface that covers the bottom of the hoof; and the frog, a V-shaped structure that acts as a shock absorber and aids in circulation.

Inside, the laminae are a network of sensitive tissues that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone and the pedal bone. This provides stability and support. These laminae are essential for the hoof’s integrity, and when they become inflamed, it becomes one of the main causes of laminitis in horses.

What are the Causes of Laminitis in Horses?

So, what is laminitis in horses? It is essentially the inflammation of the laminae in a horse’s hoof. This inflammation can cause severe pain and structural damage, often making it difficult for the horse to move around comfortably.

Horses can develop laminitis due to various factors such as compromised intestinal lining, systemic inflammatory response, obesity, carbohydrate overload, certain medications, and environmental factors like black walnut shavings or corticosteroid use.

The condition can affect one or more hooves. However, it occurs in the front feet more often since they bear more weight. Left untreated, laminitis can lead to long-term lameness or even necessitate euthanasia in severe cases. For better outcomes, understanding and recognizing the causes of laminitis is crucial.

Risk Factors of Laminitis in Horses

Understanding more of the causes of laminitis in horses helps to prevent and manage the condition. Some primary risk factors are:

  • Overeating Grain or Rich Grass: Excessive intake of carbohydrates can lead to rapid fermentation in the horse’s gut, producing toxins that trigger laminitis.
  • Obesity: Overweight horses are at higher risk due to the extra stress on their hooves.
  • Hormonal Imbalances: Conditions such as Cushing’s disease can make horses more susceptible.
  • Trauma: Excessive weight-bearing or repetitive stress on a single leg can lead to laminitis.
  • Equine Metabolic Syndrome: Horses with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) are at increased risk due to hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance, which can lead to difficulty losing weight and abnormal fat deposits.

Clinical Symptoms of Laminitis in Horses

Recognizing the clinical signs of laminitis early can lead to better outcomes. Common symptoms of laminitis in horses include:

  • Lameness: Difficulty walking or reluctance to move.
  • Shifting Weight: Horses may frequently shift their weight to relieve pressure.
  • Heat in the Hoof: A noticeable increase in the temperature of the hoof.
  • Pain Reaction: Sensitivity to pressure on the hoof.
  • Unusual Stance: Horses may stand with their hind legs under their body to relieve the front feet.

Acute laminitis presents specific symptoms such as severe foot tenderness, increased digital pulses, and significant pain. Recognizing these clinical signs promptly is crucial for effective treatment and management.

What To Expect at the Veterinarian

If you suspect laminitis, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian immediately for a thorough assessment.

The diagnostic process typically begins with a physical examination, where the vet will look for signs such as lameness, abnormal hoof heat, and changes in stance or behavior. This is often followed by hoof testing, where pressure is applied to various parts of the hoof to pinpoint specific areas of pain and discomfort.

Veterinarians may also assess blood flow to the hooves during diagnosis to identify any impairments that could contribute to the condition.

To get a clearer picture of the internal structures and the extent of any damage, the vet may also take X-rays. These images can reveal the severity of the inflammation and any potential rotation or sinking of the coffin bone, which is critical for determining the appropriate treatment plan.

Managing Chronic Laminitis

Once diagnosed, managing laminitis in horses involves an approach tailored to alleviate pain and promote healing. Chronic laminitis requires ongoing management strategies, including regular monitoring, appropriate hoof care, and tailored treatment plans to address the progression from acute cases.

Rest and stall confinement are essential, as limiting movement reduces stress on the affected hooves. Adjusting the horse’s diet is also crucial; reducing carbohydrate intake and managing weight can prevent further episodes of laminitis.

Medications, including anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers prescribed by a veterinarian, play a significant role in managing pain and inflammation. Moreover, special shoeing or trimming for laminitis horses can provide additional support to the hoof structure.

Managing Laminitis With Far Infrared Therapy

Far infrared therapy, offered through products from Gladiator Equine, can be particularly beneficial in managing horses affected by this condition. This therapy helps improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation, which are critical factors in the healing process.

By penetrating deep into the tissues, far infrared light can alleviate pain and promote faster recovery. Incorporating these products into a comprehensive treatment plan can enhance your horse’s comfort and recovery.

Prevention of Laminitis

While it’s not always possible to prevent, there are some measures you can take to reduce the risk of your horse getting laminitis:

  1. Balanced Diet: Ensure your horse has a well-balanced diet low in excess carbohydrates.
  2. Regular Exercise: Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise.
  3. Routine Hoof Care: Regular trimming and check-ups by a farrier. Moreover, schedule check-ups at the veterinarian to ensure everything is running smoothly.
  4. Monitoring Health Conditions: Keep an eye on hormonal imbalances and other health issues.
  5. Preventing Supporting Limb Laminitis: To prevent supporting limb laminitis (SLL), ensure that horses with non-weight-bearing lameness receive appropriate pain management and support to avoid excessive weight-bearing on the opposite limb.


The prognosis for laminitis varies depending on the severity and how quickly it is treated. Early intervention can often lead to significant recovery, allowing the horse to return to normal activities with proper care and management.

However, in severe cases, the damage to the hoof structures can be extensive, leading to chronic pain and long-term lameness. Horses suffering from severe laminitis may experience such compromised quality of life that euthanasia becomes the most humane option.

Regular monitoring and prompt action are essential to improve the chances of a positive outcome, emphasizing the importance of awareness and preparedness among horse owners and caretakers.

Contact Gladiator Equine For More Information About Our Therapeutic Products

Timely intervention is key to preventing laminitis in horses. If you suspect (or know) that your horse has laminitis, there are management options available.

At Gladiator Equine, we offer a range of products designed to support hoof health and overall well-being. Our therapeutic solutions, such as far infrared light therapy, can be beneficial in both the prevention and treatment of equine ailments, including laminitis. Check out our full array of hoof health products or contact us with any questions you may have.


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