Spotting the signs of laminitis

It's not as simple as you might think

Divergent hoof rings and bruising in a horse with laminitis

What are the signs of laminitis?

Severe laminitis

Horses with severe laminitis will show obvious signs of pain: this can be anything from a horse constantly shifting their weight from foot to foot, a horse standing with a rocked back stance to take the weight off their toes, or a horse lying down unable to weight bear. Although it is obvious your horse is in pain, sometimes it is not obvious where the pain is coming from and occasionally laminitis can mistakenly be assumed to be a case of colic. Your vet will be able to assess your painful horse and determine where the source of pain is, so if you spot any signs of pain you should always call your vet immediately.

Moderate laminitis

Horses with moderate or early laminitis can be more challenging to spot: a 'footy' horse, a horse who is a bit 'footsore' after the farrier visit or a horse who changes gait as they move from hard to soft ground is also a horse in pain and needs attention.

Early laminitis

Experts now believe that laminitis is often present and causing abnormal hoof growth for some time before signs of pain are noted. These signs are not obvious and you will need to regularly examine your horse's hooves in order to identify and treat cases of early laminitis and prevent painful episodes from occuring. There are a few things that you can check for:

  • Growth lines that appear to be wider apart at the heel compared to the toe, as in the photograph above. These are called divergent hoof lines and are an indication that there is a problem with the hoof growth pattern.
  • Unusually hot hooves and/or bounding digital pulses. Comparing your horse's feet to their stablemates is a good way to check this.
  • A deep black line between the horn and the sole

You can download our simple assessment checklist using the link below to review whether your horse or pony has any signs that could be associated with laminitis.

Laminitis Assessment Checklist for horse owners.pdf