When an owner makes the difficult decision to euthanize a horse with laminitis, it's often because the horse is simply in too much pain to justify prolonging treatment. For this reason, researchers are continually trying to come up with improved analgesic (pain relief) methods. Andrew van Eps, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, senior lecturer in Equine Medicine at The University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science, reviewed current pain management options for laminitic horses at the 2013 International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Nov. 1-3 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The pain laminitic horses experience might stem from several sources, van Eps said, including inflammation, submural (beneath the hoof wall) pressure, tearing of submural tissues, ischemia (lack of blood flow), the distal phalanx (P3, or coffin bone) applying pressure to the sole, and neuropathic mechanisms (those caused by nerve damage and described, in humans, as throbbing, stabbing, sharp pain).

We, as humans, want to control horses' pain not only for welfare reasons but also because it interferes with the animal's function. However, we can't simply eliminate pain completely, as it does serve an important purpose in self-preservation, van Eps said.

"Without pain, weight-bearing and ambulation are not restricted in horses with laminitis, so consequently there can be increased mechanical distractive forces on the lamellar tissue and progression of the lesion itself," he explained.

The first step in determining how to manage a laminitic horse's discomfort is to assess his pain level objectively and routinely, said van E