Horse owners have long heard that laminitis can be associated with sepsis, a word that describes an overwhelming bacterial infection of the body. It came from our veterinarians and laminitis researchers, who’ve frequently referred to the term "sepsis" when discussing the disease, using it interchangeably with systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).

Now, said James Orsini, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center for Equine Veterinary Research, veterinarians and researchers are turning to SIRS as the more appropriate term when discussing, treating, and preventing equine laminitis.

"We’ve used both the terms ‘sepsis’ and ‘SIRS’ in laminitis research, following a convention used in human research," Orsini said when he presented during the Laminitis News Hour at the 2012 Conference on the Equine Limb: Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics, held Nov. 2-3 in Monterey, Calif. As it turns out, that convention isn’t a perfect analogy when it comes to horses.

SIRS describes a cascade of inflammation that frequently leads to laminar failure in the hoof. However, as the word "systemic" implies, this inflammatory response affects various body systems. That means, while our focus is often on the foot, much more is going on within the SIRS-afflicted horse. Research shows that, in these cases, subclinical inflammatory indicators are evident in the liver, lungs, and kidneys before the onset of clinical laminitis.

Orsini outlined the causes of SIRS to include:

  • Infection or endotoxemia;
  • Trauma;
  • Ischemia (r