Laminitis Care

Laminitis Care for Horses

Treatments for laminitis vary according to the severity of the condition:

  • Use of the Outlaw Shoe to relieve pressure on the hoof/hooves.
  • Imposing dietary restrictions to prevent overeating and obesity.
  • Treating with mineral oil via a nasogastric tube to purge the horse’s digestive tract. This will limit the absorption of bacterial toxins, especially if the horse has overeaten.
  • Administering fluids if the horse is ill or dehydrated.
  • Administering medication and/or natural medicines, and anticoagulants and vasodilators to improve blood flow to the feet.
  • Administration of painkillers. Since moderate to intense pain often accompanies laminitis and founder, prescribe painkillers and/or anti-inflammatories for the horse. These may include NSAIDs.
  • Use of a magnetic hoof pad found in the Outlaw shoe 21.2 pounds. This recently introduced treatment is believed to increase local circulation and help relieve pain.
  • Stabling the horse on soft ground, such as sand or shavings.
  • Opening and draining of any abscesses that may develop.
  • Co-operation with the horse’s farrier.
  • Early treatment of the primary problem. (A delay of even a few hours can literally be the difference between continued healthy living and euthanasia so keep the Outlaw Shoe kit on hand.)

Symptoms of Laminitis

Symptoms of the primary illness will be present along with lameness – usually in the front feet. On occasion, all four feet will be affected. When the forelimbs are affected, the horse will shift weight to the back legs, with the front legs extended. This is the typical “founder stance”. In response to the pain associated with the condition, the horse may refuse to stand or walk. In the early stages, identifying the condition may require turning the horse in a circle, preferably on a hard surface. An affected horse’s gait is typically short with rapid foot placement, hence the term “walking on eggshells”.

Preventing laminitis and founder

Laminitis is a disease that is avoidable when proper horse management is practiced consistently.

Horse owners wishing to prevent the condition should observe the following:

  • Avoid feeding excesses and keep the horse at a reasonable weight.
  • Watch for and avoid grass blooms on pastures. Pull the horse off the fields and onto a dry lot if necessary. Feed hay in the morning and turn the horse out after dew has evaporated from the grass.
  • Keep grain in closed bins and the door to the feed room closed.
  • Give the horse unlimited access to fresh, clean water, except immediately after exercise, when the amount should be regulated.
  • Make changes to routines slowly and progressively, to avoid stress.

Horses at risk for laminitis and founder

The following risk factors exist for laminitis and founder:

  • Horses on a high grain diet
  • Ponies
  • Heavy breeds, such as draft breeds (large body weight)
  • Overweight horses
  • Unrestricted grain intake (if the horse breaks into the feed area, for example)
  • Horses on lush pasture


The digital laminae are responsible for suspension of the axial skeleton of the animal within the hoof and dissipate concussive forces during locomotion. There are about 600 pairs of interleaved laminae: the epidermal laminae attached to the hoof wall and the dermal laminae attached to the coffin bone. Laminitis results from a compromise of this interaction, the mechanism of which remains unclear and is currently the subject of much research. Laminitis literally means inflammation of the laminae, and while it remains controversial whether this is the primary mechanism of disease, evidence of inflammation occurs very early in some instances of the disease.

Cellular and Molecular Biology of Laminitis

At present, three primary hypotheses exist for the mechanism of laminar failure. The first is classical inflammation, which includes infiltration of potentially destructive white blood cells. The second is ischemia-reperfusion injury. Researchers have observed both decreased and increased blood flow to the laminae. As ischemia-reperfusion injury reconciles both observations, it has received much attention in past years. Finally, metabolic derangements that lead to impaired cell function and proteolysis enzyme activation has been proposed to be the primary mechanism for development of laminitis.


In laminitis cases, a clear distinction must be made between the acute situation, starting at the onset of a laminitis attack and a chronic situation. A chronic situation can be either stable or unstable. The difference between acute, chronic, stable and unstable is of vital importance, when choosing a treatment protocol.

Laminitis can be mechanical or systemic, unilateral (on one foot) or bilateral (on two feet) or may also occur in all four feet.

Systemic laminitis follows from some metabolic disturbance within the horse, from a multitude of possible causes, and results in the partial dysfunction of the epidermal and dermal laminae, which attach the distal phalanx to the hoof wall. With this dysfunction, the deep digital flexor tendon (which attaches to the semi-lunar crest of the distal phalanx and serves to flex the foot) is able to pull the bone away from the wall, instead of flexing the foot. When the coffin bone is pulled away from the hoof wall, the remaining laminae will tear. This may lead to abscesses, within the hoof capsule, that can be severe and very painful.

Systemic laminitis is usually bilateral and is most common in the front feet, although it sometimes affects the hind feet.

Mechanical laminitis or “mechanical founder” does not start with laminitis or rotation of the distal phalanx. Instead, the wall is pulled away from the bone or lost, as a result of external influences. Mechanical founder can occur when a horse habitually paws, is ridden or driven on hard surfaces or loses laminar function, due to injury or pathologies affecting the wall.

Mechanical founder can be either unilateral or bilateral and can affect both front and hind feet.

Use of the Outlaw shoe in any phase of laminitis can improve the pain level and chances of recovery.