First Aid for Laminitis

You think that your horse has laminitis – HELP!

It can be difficult to know what to do for the best, and no doubt everyone on your yard will want to give their opinion, leaving you with plenty of conflicting advice. With that in mind here are some nine practical steps to take if you suspect that your horse has laminitis

1. Call your vet

It’s essential to call the vet. This sounds very obvious but sadly so many owners think that that they will ‘wait and see’ during a bout of laminitis, or that it’s normal for their horse or pony to become a bit ‘footsore’. Don’t forget that horses are prey animals and will generally try and conceal lameness or injury, so a ‘foot sore’ pony could actually be in a lot of pain. Some owners think they should call their farrier, and although the farrier is an essential part of the recovery process, they cannot diagnose or offer pain relief as your vet can.

2. Don’t be tempted to ‘self-medicate’

Do not give any medication without speaking to your vet first. Many owners have some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as phenylbutazone at their yard, but this should never be given without consulting with your vet first. Often medication that has been kept has expired or hasn’t been stored correctly. Your vet will have a variety of pain relief options, these will be faster acting and more effective than an out of date sachet of bute.

3. Remove the horse from the field

With any suspected case of laminitis, it is essential to limit any further damage to the laminae by reducing movement. The horse or pony should be removed from the field and stabled immediately. Due to the painful nature of the condition, the horse should be allowed to walk at their own pace, however long that takes. It may be appropriate to travel the horse in a low trailer if the field is a long distance from the stables. If no stabling is available a small pen will need to be created, within the field to reduce movement, or you could use a field shelter.

4. Make the horse comfortable

A horse suffering from a bout of laminitis will be experiencing a lot of discomfort and stabling on a deep bed of shavings is an ideal. The horse needs to be able to dig its hooves into the bedding material to provide pain relief, and the deep bed must be continued right up to the door of the stable. Some owners like to use sand but this must be dry and not too tightly compacted. Cardboard bedding could also be used, the bedding material just needs to be able to mould around the hoof and provide support to the frog.

5. Keep the horse calm

Keeping the horse calm, quiet and still is essential while you wait for the vet, and also in the short term management of the condition. It is sensible to ensure that the horse has a companion close by, it will help to keep them as relaxed as possible.

6. Don’t starve them

The laminitic horse should not be starved. This is a common misconception about caring for a horse or pony with laminitis. They do need to be fed an appropriate diet which is lower in non-structural carbohydrates. Your vet will help you to devise a suitable diet to help manage laminitis, but soaking hay is an effective way to reduce the sugar content. Hay can be soaked in cold water for several hours, but for a more immediate option, warm water can be used, soaking hay for 30 minutes to one hour to make it a safer forage choice for the laminitic horse or pony.

7. Easy reach

It is essential that both hay and water are easy for the horse to get to, as limiting movement and reducing any further pain is the priority.

8. Frog support

While you wait for your vet to arrive another practical step you could take is to provide your horse with some frog support, this would be particularly helpful if you aren’t able to stable the horse on a thick bed of shavings or sand. The idea is to help the horse take more weight through the frog and take the pressure off the wall of the hoof, thus relieving the laminae.

You can purchase specialist frog supports and these may be part of your horse’s recovery plan. However, you can use a roll of vet wrap (unrolled) on the frog and simply tape it to the hoof. This will provide the same benefits temporarily in an emergency situation.

9. Be patient

Laminitis is a tricky condition to manage, but there are many success stories of horses who have made a brilliant recovery from this condition. You might find that the recovery process is longer (and more frustrating) than you expect so do be patient.

I hope that you have found this article helpful, remember laminitis can affect horses and ponies of all ages and sizes, and it is essential to call the vet if you suspect that your horse is suffering from this condition.

If you’ve found this article interesting, you can read more of NKC’s helpful advice here