Laminitis treatment recommendations and therapies come and go: Some once considered gold standards have been abandoned altogether, and others resurface over time (e.g., icing acutely laminitic feet). Corticosteroids, which veterinarians have historically advised against using to treat laminitic horses, might be one of those therapies warranting reconsideration. With this in mind, Robert Boswell, DVM, a private practitioner in Wellington, Fla., discussed why he believes these potent anti-inflammatories are an effective treatment method at the 6th International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Oct. 28-31 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

When approaching a laminitis case, Boswell’s goals include identifying and treating the cause of disease (as opposed to addressing just the clinical signs); supporting the bony column of the distal limb and the sensitive soft tissues within the hoof capsule; and treating inflammation aggressively and rapidly with tools such as ice, rest, dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Veterinarians often shy away from administering corticosteroids (such as dexamethasone and prednisone), however, due to possible systemic effects associated with high doses–including triggering laminitic episodes.

According the Boswell, corticosteroids’ benefits (when used appropriately, in low doses) should outweigh the risks. For instance, these drugs inhibit inflammatory mediator expression and decrease prostaglandin production (a fatty acid-derived compound that triggers an inflammatory response). He emphasized that no causal relationship exists between corticosteroid use and laminitis development; cases associated with corticosteroid use occurred with unreasonably high drug doses for long periods of time.