Laminitis update

By Sue Palmer


A recent update on laminitis is shifting beliefs.  As I grew up, we ‘knew’ that laminitis was caused by ponies being too fat, mostly because they ate too much grass.  A 2017 review of the research on laminitis blows that myth out of the water.  Sure, laminitis can still be part of the problem when the horse or pony is too fat.  But the review shows that the cause of laminitis is insulin.  The trouble is that not all horses and ponies react to it in the same way, just as not all people react to eating sugar in the same way.  Laminitis has been shown to be not a single disease, but a clinical syndrome associated with a variety of diseases, including endocrine disease, sepsis and systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).


Endocrine laminitis is now recognised as the most common form of naturally occurring laminitis, and the major endocrine disorders resulting in laminitis are Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Pars Pituitary Intermediary Disease (PPID, commonly known as ‘Cushings’).  Your vet can test your horse for either of these conditions, and if you are concerned at how your horse reacts to the sugars in the grass, it’s well worth having a discussion with your vet.


One of the key findings of the research was that you can induce laminitis by infusing insulin into a horse (how they got that one past the ethics committee I don’t know!).  This is linked to the knowledge that it’s the sugars in the grass that cause laminitis.  But not in every horse, only in the ones who are sensitive to it – see the paragraph above and discuss with your vet if you are concerned whether or not your horse is metabolically normal ?


Another piece of information that’s come out of the research is on how the lamellar cells stretch in laminitis.  These cells hold the pedal bone in place, and when they stretch, they become weakened, like a stretched elastic band.  Something I find fascinating is the ability of these cells to recover, as long as the damage is not too severe.  We know this partly from the horses who have ‘laminitis rings’ on their hooves, but have not (to the owner’s knowledge at least!) been lame.  The cells have stretched, the structure of the hoof has changed, but so long as the situation was recognised and resolved, the cells recover and the structure of the hoof changes once more.


Laminitis is devastating, and few of us have got this far without being affected by it from near or far.  As always, knowledge is key, and I’m so pleased to be able to share the information from this important review.  Please share this with anyone you know who has a horse at risk of laminitis, or one who has suffered or is suffering from this incredibly painful ‘clinical syndrome’.  When we are unfortunate enough to witness a horse hurting so much, especially if it’s a horse we are close to, we can be grateful that scientists are continuing to develop their knowledge towards bringing comfort to that horse, and to the many others who are suffering.


Throughout the world horses are crying out to be heard.  As Craig Kielburger said “It’s easier to be ignorant and say I don’t know about the problem.  But once you know, once you’ve seen it in their eyes, then you have a responsibility to do something.  There is strength in numbers, and if we all work together as a team, we can be unstoppable.”  If you’ve seen the pain in a horse’s eye, you’ll know whey I’m asking you to join me today at Ethical Horsemanship Association (, because together as a team we can make a difference to the horses of the world.


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