Supportive Care for the Laminitic Horse

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This time of year (fall in the US; spring in Tasmania) can bring on laminitic episodes for many horses and ponies. Some are mild while others are difficult to manage and heal. The way one supports the laminitic is paramount to how quickly the situation will resolve.

I'm not going to go through the details of Laminitis as I've done so extensively in prior posts. (CLICK HERE TO FIND OTHER ARTICLES IN SCOOT BOOTS)

Suffice to say Laminitis is, at best, extremely painful for a horse or pony and, at worst, can lead to full-fledged chronic Founder.

It's not something to fool around with.

Always consult with your vet and keep him or her abreast of the clinical symptoms you are observing.

But I'd like to give some pointers as to how to give supportive care for your barefoot horse or pony should he or she be experiencing a bout of it.

1.  Remove the offending feed, if any, from the feed schedule. I prefer, personally, to feed no processed grain but offer, instead, good quality forages that include fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds as well as hay. However, if grass is a culprit then it should be eliminated from the feed schedule. As much as I don't like corraling a horse or pony to a dry lot, during the time of active laminitis it's probably the wisest choice.

2. Provide, in the dry lot, a soft, dry place for your horse or pony to lie down. It is alright for them to lie down but do understand that lying down for long periods of time can, and does, cause respiratory issues and possibly pressure sores on the body. You need to help your horse or pony to change positions every couple of hours. If extended periods of lying down are noted then a protective sheet or blanket on the horse will help to cushion the body and help prevent pressure sores. Be sure there are no harmful snaps or clamps on the blanket that can damage the skin if the pony is lying on them.

3.  Ensure the bedding area is kept immaculately clean by removing any urine or manure spots as soon as they are noticed. Also make sure the area is large enough so that the horse, when he does try to stand, will not fall and injure itself if he falls down. Just like you or I, a prolonged recumbent position in one position will weaken our legs and the same can happen to horses causing them to be weak and wobbly.

4.  Provide plenty of fresh, clean water for the horse at all times along with clean hay. Note:  Hay with CLOVER in it is a predisposition to laminitis for some horses. Make sure the hay you provide has NO CLOVER in it. A nice, green, leafy mix of various grasses makes a good choice. The hay can be given on the ground if the horse is recumbent or put into a small-hole net for the horse to nibble. Also keep sea salt available to the horse at all times. I also like raw, naturally chelated minerals to be available to the horse or pony 24/7. 

5.  Keep track of the clinical symptoms (as noted above) and report any increase of the symptoms to your veterinarian. Increase of respiration, pulse, sweating, digital pulse, decrease of appetite or thirst, increase of temperature are all important notes that will help your veterinarian advise the best treatment for your horse or pony.

6.  If your horse or pony is wearing boots or supportive bandages then those need to be regularly checked and adjusted or changed as indicated. Socks can be used if the boots are on for extended periods of time in order to protect the soft tissue of the coronary band/hairline. There are a number of different sole support products that can be bandaged onto the hooves.

7.  Spend time with your horse or pony. An equine's natural state is to be up on all fours ready to flee from any possible threats. The inability to rise or run away is distressing to a horse or pony and the added stress can exacerbate the laminitic condition. Your presence will comfort your horse and alleviate that added stress which, in turn, can help your horse recover quickly. If your horse is able to walk then walking with him, encouraging him, can go a long way in the emotional support he needs as well as helping to restore circulation in the hooves. Walking the horse 2 or 3 times a day on smooth, cushioned, level surfaces can be very helpful in reversing and diminishing inflammation in the hooves. Boots are a great way to help cushion the hooves during walks.

8.  (NOTE: ... this is purely a personal observation from the care I've given to hundreds of laminitis horses and not to be taken a 'gospel' advice.)

I use essential oils to help with inflammation and pain relief. I also will use homeopathics. The two courses of treatment can conflict with one another so advice from a knowledgeable homeopathic veterinarian should be taken. I do not like to use chemicals on my horses or clients' horses so do not suggest using NSAIDs such as Bute or other anti-inflammatory/analgesic with events of Laminitis. I feel they can cause secondary issues with the gut and the immune system. That being said, I am not a veterinarian. You have to make your own call as to what you would like to do for your horse.  As much as we hate to see our critters in pain the pain is a barometer for the horse to keep them from moving more than what is safe for them to do. Essential oils can help take the edge off the pain and homeopathics work on the entire system to bring it back to a state of healthy balance. Herbs also help the body to rebalance and address individual organs and systems of the horse that need attention.

9. Consult with your hoofcare provider to make sure the hooves are in optimal form. In other words, trimmed appropriately for the individual and maintained regularly. Shorter times between trims can be beneficial at this time to keep the hooves in shape for the best healing opportunity.

There are a number of different treatments that veterinarians will advise. You may want to discuss the use of essential oils, herbs or homeopathics with your vet to come up with a treatment plan that will work for you and your horse.

A good team, you, your veterinarian and your hoofcare provider can make a miserable situation more encouraging and supportive for both you and your horse. Attentive care will go a long way in helping to prevent the laminitic event progressing into a full-blown founder event.


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoof care for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE CT and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- or telephone in the US (774)-280-4227 NEW PHONE). For further information please click here:


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