Laminitis is a painful disease in horses that is often illustrated by classic clinical signs. Recognizing these signs during early onset and seeking immediate veterinary care can improve the outcome of treatment, said James Orsini, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, director of the Laminitis Institute at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

Orsini and Nora Grenager, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, of Grenager Equine Consulting, in Middleburg, Va., described the phases, clinical signs, and degrees of laminitis at the 2012 International Equine Conference of the Equine Limb–Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics, which took place Nov. 2-3 in Monterey, Calif.

Orsini explained that practitioners and researchers divide laminitis cases into three categories: acute (rapid onset with short but severe course), chronic (lasting for a long period of time or marked by frequent recurrence), and subclinical (not yet showing clinical signs). The condition most frequently occurs in the front hooves, which carry the majority of the horse’s weight (estimated at approximately 60%) although it can affect the hind hooves as well.

Clinical signs of equine laminitis include:

  • Reluctance or inability to walk;
  • Weight-shifting or treading;
  • Increased respiratory rate and frequently increased heart rate;
  • A glazed, pained expression;
  • When front feet are affected, a stance with the hind legs camped under their body and forefeet camped out;
  • Bounding digital arterial pulses (throbbing); and
  • Feet that are hot to the touch.

Unfortunately, Orsini noted, recent research shows that str