How To Spot The Symptoms Of Laminitis in Horse
The secret to diagnosing laminitis is being able to notice a change in the nature of the pulses in the digital arteries supplying your horse’s feet.
To appreciate what’s abnormal, you must first be able to appreciate what is normal. So, when your horse is well, get used to feeling for his pulse with your finger and thumb.
When your horse has laminitis the pulse rate will increase but, importantly, the character of the pulse will also change. In a normal horse the pulse should feel to have a gradual rise, peak and then fall at about 40 beats per minute. When a horse has laminitis there is a rapid peak to the pulse and the pulse is much stronger (easier to feel). It becomes like a tiny hammer under your thumb.
The only other defining characteristic of laminitis you need to note is whether or not your horse has become lame. In mild cases he will not be able to walk as freely as usual and will tend to shift his weight constantly from one foot to another, trying to stand on his heels. Remember that he may get laminitis in any combination of feet, with the front being the most commonly affected.
Signs and diagnosis
Laminitis more commonly affects both fore feet, but can affect one foot or even just the hind feet. In most instances, the affected horse will shift its weight from one limb to the other, will be reluctant to move and may lie down. There is sometimes heat in the hooves and an increased digital pulse.
The digital pulse is the blood flowing through the digital artery into the hoof – the greater the inflammation within the hoof, the stronger the digital pulse will be. A digital pulse can be difficult to find in a healthy horse, but if you have a laminitic horse, it can be helpful for monitoring the amount of inflammation in the foot.
In mild laminitis cases, there may only be a slight change in the horse’s gait, with him moving in a pottering way. These animals will go on to deteriorate further unless they are rested and treated correctly.
In severe cases, however, the animal will be unable to move, may be panting, sweating and resting back on his heels, and in the most severe cases, will be recumbent and unable to rise. These severe cases may have to be put to sleep if their pain cannot be controlled.
Occasionally the diagnosis of laminitis can be difficult, particularly where the signs are subtle. Your veterinary surgeon may recommend X-rays to help with diagnosis and in choosing the best course of treatment. X-rays of the feet can also help the vet give you an indication of how severe the laminitis is, as well as helping your farrier to trim the feet appropriately.
In laminitis cases where an underlying metabolic condition such as Cushing’s disease is suspected, blood tests will be necessary to determine the nature and extent of the disease.
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