Laminitis Myths and Facts


I’ll make it quick – I hate laminitis. I’m on a mission to end it, starting with smarting up about this disease! That means getting rid of some laminitis myths that seem to always creep up on the internet of things.


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MYTH: Laminitis and founder are the same thing.


  • Well, no, not really. But, laminitis and founder are closely related!


  • This is just a nit-picky thing, but one that bears clarifying. Laminitis is when the soft laminae between the horse’s coffin bone and the hoof wall swells. Founder is when the coffin bone rotates, twists, or moves sideways inside the hoof.


  • It’s fair to say that some horses develop laminitis without any positional change in the bones. However, in most casual internet language, the two words are interchangeable. If you are type A and enjoy charts and graphs as I do, this might make you annoyed. As I am. If you are not annoyed by this, please teach me how to not be annoyed.


horse in buckets of ice


MYTH: Horses only get laminitis in the front legs.


  • Some of the most common causes of laminitis are systemic – they affect your horse’s entire body, and therefore all four legs. However, you might only see obvious signs of laminitis in the front legs. This is because your horse carries most of his weight up front, about 60%. The hind hooves are usually a bit differently balanced than the fronts, which may also alter how your horse shows pain. There’s great evidence gathered by X-rays and post-mortem dissections that tell us all four feet are often the case.


  • Therefore, it’s absolutely imperative that you treat any horse with laminitis as having it in all four hooves, even if it’s only obvious in a few of those hooves.


  • Just for grins, let’s pretend a horse is mostly painful in the fronts and he doesn’t seem painful behind. When you treat him as having laminitis in all four hooves, you can do wonders for his pain everywhere, and you may prevent any damage in the less obviously stressed legs.


  • This is also evident with the horse that has an injury that could result in supporting limb laminitis. This is a slow brewing event, usually, and an injured leg has shifted weight to the non-injured legs. All four hooves should be treated prophylactically to help prevent laminitis.


feel the hoof with your hands


MYTH: Horses with laminitis will show the typical stance where they are rocked back.


  • Ack! Some enterprising researchers have found that not only is laminitis as frighteningly common as colic, less than 25% of horses will rock back and show that “laminitis stance”.


  • There’s also documentation to show that some horses start to stand as if on a pedestal to alleviate some of the pain of laminitis.


  • This means it’s up to you to monitor your horse’s hooves, instead of waiting for him to show you with an unlikely way of standing. Just another way that horses are weird! And are masters of hiding pain.



MYTH: Laminitis from grass overload only happens in the spring.


  • Technically, grass overload can happen at any time if a clever horse finds a way. But in terms of risk factors and the “richness” of grass, it’s not really spring that’s the most dangerous. Spring grass is growing fast, is lush, and has lots of laminitis triggering “sugars”.


  • In the fall, the grass doesn’t look as it does in the spring, usually. But the “sugars” are still churning. Sometimes, the weather gives us some warm weeks, and the grass decides to ramp up again. Or, the weather sours and pasture will starts to hoard those starches to chill out over winter. It might not look green and lush, but the grass lies!


  • Your horse’s own body also starts to act up in the fall, contributing to a higher risk of laminitis before winter. His body will naturally start to have more adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which is mostly benign by itself, but involved in larger metabolic processes. When a horse’s ACTH starts to rise, it’s usually due to having a metabolic disorder, namely pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID).


  • But, the fall can trigger any horse to have an increased ACTH production, regardless of their PPID status. This, in turn, affects other hormones and metabolic processes and is associated with an increased risk of laminitis.


gray horse with fly mask grazing on a hill


So there you have it! More myth busting.


Highly subtle signs that your horse needs emergency veterinary attention in the hoof department:


  • Your horse is tender or sore after being shod.


  • Walking is uncomfortable, he may hesitate, or he may act like he’s on eggshells. Leading him from a soft and supportive stall or soft sandy paddock to harder ground changes his pace, increases his stress, or causes him to take smaller steps.


  • He may not want to turn in his stall. Some horse will act as if they are turning on the haunches, some may take many tiny steps to turn. Basically, how he turns is different than the norm.


  • Mild colic. Colic and pain and laminitis go hand in hand! Signs of colic often mimic signs of laminitis. Hence – another reason to call the dang vet.


  • Postural changes. Is he standing differently? Is his back tense as he tries to take pressure off the hooves? Does he actively look for soft places to stand? Is he laying down more?


  • Some horses will shift their weight more frequently than normal. This includes shifting the front legs, too. Other horses will shift their weight less frequently than normal.


  • Digital pulses are strong and bounding. It’s best to know your horse’s normal digital pulse, check it every day as you check legs and pick feet. It’s typical for a healthy hoof to have a barely perceptible digital pulse. VIDEO below!



  • The hooves are warm or hot. Again, check every day as you pick feet. This is a case where his hooves might be hot from being in the sun. Take a step back and put things in perspective, but do notice how his hooves feel.


  • You may even see the hair around the coronary band and pastern start to poke out and be fringy….if there is a bone sinking inside the hoof, the hairs will be rearranged as the anatomy inside changes.


check your horse's digital pulse

It’s quick and easy to check digital pulses!


What to do if you suspect laminitis:



  • Get your horse on a soft surface if possible and ice your horse’s hooves continuously. Please ice all of them. This is pain relief and helps with reducing the damage that laminitis can cause. If you are able to also ice the lower legs, this will amplify the pain relief and help to stop the inflammation even more.


  • Remove any food until your vet can arrive. Take your horse from pasture and take away any concentrates, feeds, or grains. If he is too sore to walk from pasture, he needs to be stopped from eating. You may have to rig a grazing muzzle with tape so that the entire muzzle has a solid bottom that no grass can get through.


Laminitis can be slowed and prevented! The more we can understand and research about his horrible disease, the better. Keep a close eye on your horse, and get the vet involved pronto.



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