Who's at Risk for Laminitis?

Is your horse a candidate for the potentially deadly disease laminitis?
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Is your horse a candidate for the potentially deadly disease laminitis?

Most Americans think their horses are not at risk for laiminitis, despite the loss of equine superstars like Secretariat and, more recently, Barbaro to the disease--as well as Olympic dressage medalist Udon and Advanced event horses Mind the Gap and Horton Who. Laminitis is a potential threat to all horses. In Great Britain, for instance, the Laminitis Trust reports that laminitis affects 7.1 percent of all horses there.

Signs that your horse may be at risk of developing laminitis:

  • He fits the "easy keeper" profile," and he seems quiet, but otherwise appears normal.
  • He doesn't seem to lose weight, even when rations are reduced.
  • Lateral radiographs of his foot show slight rotation of the coffin bone or remodeling of the bone.
  • He has "fat pads" on his neck or crest, near the shoulders and in front of his tail-head; a gelding may also have an enlarged sheath.
  • His body score is 7 to 9 when rated by an objective analyst (someone other than yourself).
  • Ultrasound of his abdomen reveals a thick layer of fat.
  • If your horse is a mare, she may have an abnormal estrous cycle and be difficult to breed.
  • Your horse falls into the category of pony, domesticated Spanish mustang or Morgan.

Information about indicators is courtesy Dr. Philip Johnson, from his paper "Health Implications Pertaining to the Development of Obesity in Adult Horses."

Excerpted from "Laminitis Battle Stations" by Fran Jurga in the July 2005 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

For the latest thinking on causes and treatment of laminitis, read "Laminitis: Special Report" in the February 2008 issue. For an explanation of how to score your horse's body condition, go to Book Excerpt: How to Assess Body Condition.