Laminitis (Horse Diseases)

Laminitis Health & Nutrition


One of the horse diseases that can be directly related to nutrition is Laminitis.

Navajo, Shetland Pony

Before we get into Laminitis, let me introduce you to Navajo.
Breed – Shetland Pony
Age – 2009
Color – brown/brindle with flaxen mane and tail
Height – 36 inches
Weight – 600

What Navajo eats…

As with many ponies, Navajo loves to eat and does not particularly know when it is healthy for him to stop. Because of this we have to control the quantity and the level of carbohydrates in his feed. At the same time he needs to eat slowly and spread it out over most of the day . This is how horses digest food the best as they have relatively small stomachs. He is fed a small amount of grass hay, timothy or field hay that has no more than 8 % protein. If this hay does not have enough nutrients he is supplemented with a pelleted feed that adds the nutrients without increasing the protein or carbohydrates so that he does not gain excessive weight. Why? Fat ponies are cute but not healthy. Obesity in ponies can be the cause of many horse-diseases.
Navajo’s living arrangements on the farm
Navajo lives in a little paddock with a very old friend that also needs to have his feed monitored . The paddock is large enough for them to move around and stay active. But exercise is also important in managing weight and Navajo is exercised at least once a day.


Navajo and Laminitis
One afternoon we went to get Navajo from his paddock . He was to help with a lesson for a little girl. But as I approached and noticed the way he was standing, legs camped out in front of him I became alarmed. He did not want to move and as I felt his hooves and lower legs I felt heat and throbbing, definite signs of the horse disease Laminitis.

Laminitis or Founder

Laminitis is a horse disease that refers to a painful condition of the horse’s hoof. The substance that connects the hoof wall to the coffin bone is called Laminae. The swelling of the Laminae which is what causes the pain is called Laminitis. When an advanced case of Laminitis is present it can lead to the rotation of the coffin bone which is known as founder.

(Find out more about horse anatomy)


Systemic causes are by far the largest causes. Systemic causes refers to anything that relates to the normal function of a horse’s overall body system. For example: improper diet, infections, etc

Mechanical causes refers to something that has changed the normal function of a horses movement. For example: improper shoeing, injury, working on hard surfaces, etc


Signs Laminitis
  • Heat in the wall, sole and/or coronary band of the foot.
  • A pounding pulse in the digital palmar artery.
  • Anxiety.
  • Visible trembling.
  • Increased vital signs and body temperature.
  • Sweating
  • Walking very tenderly.
  • Not putting weight on an affected foot.

The horse stands with his forelegs out in front in a “founder stance” because he wants to decrease the load on the affected foot.


In the early stages of laminitis soaking the feet in ice water has been shown to have a positive effect.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are the main drug type used for any ongoing inflammation.

Navajo had the beginning signs of Laminitis but there was no radiographic sign of founder or rotation of the coffin bone. We put him in a stall for a few days on very soft bedding. A very low carbohydrate diet was started. Anti-inflammatory were given in small doses as he is a small pony. This helped decrease the inflammation which in turn allowed better circulation to the feet. His hooves were iced every 3 hours throughout the day and night. This was done until all signs of heat and throbbing were gone.

Fortunately with early detection and immediate attention to some horse-diseases it is possible to mitigate their long term effects. Navajo’s laminitis was not allowed to advance beyond the preliminary stages. Today Navajo is back to his happy healthy self but……he is on a VERY strict diet.

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