Laminitis is a painful inflammation of the sensitive laminae – the membranes which hold the pedal bones inside the horse’s hoof together.

The main cause of laminitis is a carbohydrate overload in the horse’s small intestine. This causes increased acidity, resulting in the death of beneficial fibre fermenting bacteria, which in turn causes irritation of the gut lining where endotoxins are absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes impaired circulation, especially in the hoof. The laminae cannot hold the pedal bone in place, and in severe cases the pedal bone will sink right through the sole of the hoof. In such a case the horse will have to be euthanased.

Other feeds which can cause laminitis are: 1. Young spring grass which contain high fructran levels 2. Grass under stress (drought stricken, wilted, frost damaged, over-grazed). Any infection in the body of the horse can produce enough toxins to cause laminitis, and the same applies to stress.


Laminitic attacks are usually sudden and severe. The horse will mostly develop a characteristic stance, with their forelegs stretched forward to shift their weight to their heels and relieve pressure on the toes. The horse may also lie on its side to aid to take the weight off its feet. When standing, the horse will be likely to shift its weight from one foot to the other, or be reluctant to move. A throbbing may also be felt.


Treatment focuses mainly on painkillers and antibiotics. A vet should normally be consulted as soon as possible, since laminitis can cause irreversible damage in a very short time.


Avoid sudden changes in the horse’s ration, as well as excessively high energy concentrates. Prevent bingeing by keeping high-energy feeds safely out of reach of horses. Adapt horse to lush pasture gradually, especially when it is emerging in spring or recovering after a drought. Start by allowing the horse to graze for about 15 minutes a day, and increase the grazing time gradually. Routine health care (deworming, vaccinations and routine health care aid in prevention, as does proper hoof care).

Other related diseases include Cushing’s Disease, Insulin Resistance, Monday Morning Disease.

A very complete discussion on laminitis is included in the horseman’s manual EASY HORSE. Go to to order a copy, or get the advanced sequel, SMART HORSE, for advanced training techniques and horsemanship information.