laminitis common in horses

A study conducted by the Animal Health Trust (AHT), in Newmarket, U.K., in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), in Hertfordshire, U.K., and Rossdales Equine Hospital, also in Newmarket, and funded by World Horse Welfare, has identified that one in every 10 horses and ponies could develop at least one laminitis episode each year, making it just as common as colic in Great Britain.

This newly published research has emphasized that laminitis needs to be considered an important year-round equine welfare concern in Great Britain, researchers said. Despite the long-standing belief that laminitis is a spring-time disease, this study has identified that there is no ‘safe’ season, and laminitis remains a threat across England, Scotland and Wales regardless of the time of year. Owners must remain vigilant and not reduce preventive measures when they misconceive the ‘high-risk’ period has passed.

The study should also alert horse and pony owners to the importance of recognizing subtle signs of potentially life-threatening episodes. Most laminitic animals were reported by their owners to display nonspecific and mild clinical signs, including difficulty in turning and a short/stilted gait or lameness at the walk—present in more than 70% of laminitis episodes.

However, less than a quarter of affected animals displayed the more classically recognized signs, such as the typical “rocked back on the heels” laminitic stance and divergent hoof rings (rings that are wider at the heel than at the toe).

A considerable proportion of horse and pony owners did not assess the presence of a bounding digital pulse, a commonly reported clinical sign of laminitis by veterinarians. This suggests that owners might benefit from additional help with correctly locating and assessing their animal’s digital pulse, which could contribute to earlier detection of laminitis episodes in the future.

Of concern was the finding that only half of the 123 owner-reported laminitis episodes were confirmed by a veterinary diagnosis, the study team reported. Therefore, despite laminitis being considered a medical emergency by veterinarians and researchers, many animals with laminitis are not receiving initial veterinary attention. Owners are encouraged to consult their veterinarians if they suspect laminitis or if they notice any of the subtle clinical signs associated with the disease, as by the time even subtle clinical signs arise, the damage within the foot has already begun. Early diagnosis and appropriate management is crucial in preventing long-term, often irreversible damage to structures within the laminitis-affected foot.

“Our findings indicate that laminitis is more common than we initially thought and occurs at similar rates to other high welfare health concerns, such as colic.,” said Danica Pollard, MSc, a postdoctoral research scientist in  epidemiology and disease surveillance at the AHT and RVC. “Horse and pony owners should remain vigilant at all times of the year and be particularly aware of the perhaps more subtle, but as evidence indicates also more common, clinical signs of laminitis which are a better representation of the majority of laminitis episodes.”

With ongoing support from the Margaret Giffen Charitable Trust and World Horse Welfare the next step in the laminitis research in 2019 is to identify which management and health factors were collectively associated with laminitis development within this population of animals, the researchers said.  The results should be available later in 2019.

The study, “Incidence and clinical signs of owner‐reported equine laminitis in a cohort of horses and ponies in Great Britain,” was published in Equine Veterinary Journal.