Risk Factors Causing Laminitis In Horses & Ponies


Laminitis is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition that affects horses and ponies. Laminitis has many potential causes, but overfeeding is a top risk factor. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help prevent laminitis. This article discusses laminitis causes and preventive measures and answers some frequently asked questions about this condition.

Key Takeaways:

  • Laminitis is a painful and potentially disabling condition that affects horses and ponies.
  • Overfeeding and overgrazing (such as in spring) are common risk factors for laminitis in horses.
  • Overweight horses and those with health conditions are more commonly affected than fit, healthy horses.
  • Horse owners can take preventive measures, such as using a grazing muzzle, to help reduce the risk of laminitis.

What Is Laminitis?

Laminitis is a painful condition that affects the hooves of horses and ponies.

The condition occurs when the laminae, a tissue between the hoof and coffin bone (also known as the pedal bone), becomes inflamed. The laminae tissue attaches the coffin bone to the hoof wall, and when it becomes inflamed, the attachment can weaken.

Laminitis can have an immense impact on your horse’s overall health and must be treated by a vet immediately.

What Are the Clinical Signs of Laminitis?

The clinical signs of laminitis vary but often include the presence of heat in the hoof, difficulty walking or standing, and a reluctance to move forward. Your horse may also shift its body weight frequently as it tries to relieve the pain associated with the inflammation.

Affected horses often stand in a “sawhorse stance” with their front feet planted firmly out in front and hind feet tucked underneath them. Equines with this condition sometimes show increased respiratory and heart rates.


laminitis chart

Image source: Washington Veterinary Clinic


How Is Laminitis Diagnosed?

Laminitis is usually diagnosed by the observance of clinical signs. However, diagnosis can be difficult in mild cases of laminitis and may be impossible at the initial onset of the condition.

Horse owners likely won’t notice any indications of laminitis until the case becomes acute and the horse shows signs of pain and lameness. If a horse or pony with acute laminitis is not treated promptly, the laminitis may advance into a chronic case. Those with chronic laminitis usually present with hoof deformities, displacement of the coffin bone (pedal bone), and lameness.

In severe cases, hooves have a cleft along the coronary band and have a convexed shape. Hoof rings may also be visible on the horse’s hoof wall, and sometimes white line separation, seedy toe, and abscesses can develop.

To properly diagnose laminitis, a veterinarian will need to examine the horse’s hooves and digital pulse. X-rays may also be taken in order to identify any damage that has occurred in the laminae.

What Causes Laminitis in Horses?

Laminitis can have various origins, such as illnesses, medications, or dietary changes. We discuss risk factors and potential causes below.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Equine metabolic syndrome is a condition that predisposes horses to laminitis. Those with EMS or another metabolic condition are more likely to experience laminitis episodes, particularly after feeding on a high-carbohydrate diet or when overfed.

Cushing’s Disease or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID)

Cushing’s disease, or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), is a common endocrine disorder in horses. Horses with Cushing’s disease or PPID are more likely to develop laminitis, especially after a period of stress, excess weight gain, or overfeeding.

Grazing and Overfeeding

Whether it’s prolonged grazing on a lush pasture or overfeeding on grain (carbohydrate overload), overeating is dangerous and a common cause of laminitis. This is especially true if the horse or pony is already fed high-starch or high-sugar diets or has an increased risk for the condition.

To prevent overeating, many owners use grazing muzzles, like the Flexible Filly Slow Feed Grazing Muzzle, to control how much their horses are ingesting during turnout.

Overload or Weight Bearing

Overload or weight-bearing injuries can also lead to laminitis. This is especially common in horses carrying more weight than their hooves can handle and horses healing from an injured hoof or leg.

An injury that changes a horse’s weight bearing can cause the horse or pony to place too much pressure on another limb. For example, if a horse injures its right front hoof and can’t put weight on it, it will put undue stress on the opposite limb.

Road Founder

The vibrations from hard surfaces, such as pavement, may cause road founder. The vibration can induce inflammation in the laminae and the separation of the laminae from the coffin bone.


Obesity can contribute to laminitis, placing extra strain on the horse’s hooves and legs. Obesity also affects horses’ overall health and predisposes them to other health conditions that can make laminitis more likely.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is when the body does not properly regulate blood sugar levels. Horses with insulin resistance are prone to laminitis.

Insulin resistance is more likely to occur in horses with metabolic or endocrine disorders. It’s also more likely to crop up in obese horses.


Severe colic can also lead to laminitis. This is because the toxins released by the colic can cause inflammation in the horse’s hooves.

Colic is dangerous, and horses with colic should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Retained Placenta

Retained placenta is a less common cause of laminitis, but it’s still a possibility. Toxins released by the placenta can cause inflammation in the horse’s hooves and laminitis.

Neglected Feet

Horse hooves should be trimmed and shod regularly. Neglecting this or not trimming hooves correctly can lead to laminitis. Even if the horse does not seem to be in pain, improper hoof care can be a factor in the development of the condition.

Ingestion of Toxic Plants

Ingesting certain types of toxic plants, such as black walnut shavings, can cause laminitis. Similarly to situations with colic and placenta retainment, toxins in the plant can affect the horse’s hooves.

Previous Instances of Laminitis

Horses that have previously experienced laminitis are more likely to experience a bout of it again. Taking preventive measures with high-risk animals is essential, such as controlling their diet or using a grazing muzzle.

Preventing Laminitis

Overall, it is a serious and potentially dangerous condition that can result in pain and permanent damage if left untreated.

Horse owners should pay close attention to the signs of laminitis and know what causes the condition. Knowing potential risk factors and warning signs can help horse owners stop the condition from occurring or catch it early on, making the difference between a successful recovery and a prolonged struggle.

By carefully managing the horse’s diet and exercise regimen, using a grazing muzzle, and consulting with the veterinarian regularly, horse owners can limit the risk of laminitis. Horse hoof pads may also so relieve pain in the short term.

The Prognosis for Horses with Laminitis

The prognosis for affected horses depends on how quickly the condition is identified and what steps are taken to treat it.

Early treatment is essential for a successful recovery. Even with prompt treatment, some animals may experience long-term effects such as chronic lameness or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.

Once the coffin bone (pedal bone) has rotated, the horse may have difficulty carrying a rider or performing at its former level. Mild cases are more likely to make a full recovery.

FAQs About Laminitis Risk Factors and Causes

Laminitis is a complex condition, and what causes it in one horse may be different from what causes it in another.

To help understand what might cause or contribute to the condition, here are some answers to common questions:


Why Does the Separation of the Hoof Wall and Coffin Bone Cause Such Severe Pain?

Laminitis can cause extreme pain because the laminae, which connects the hoof wall to the coffin bone, becomes inflamed and weakened, eventually separating the connection. The separation causes the coffin bone to rotate within the hoof capsule, putting pressure on sensitive tissues that can result in severe pain for the horse.

The pain can be debilitating in severe cases, especially when standing and walking. A horse with advanced laminitis may even lie down for pain relief.

Why Is Overfeeding a Risk Factor?

Equines are grazing animals, and their digestive systems are designed to process steady forage intake throughout the day. Their bodies are not designed to be in confined spaces, like stalls or small pastures, with large amounts of high-sugar or high-carbohydrate foods, especially for a prolonged period.

Exercise and a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber are vital to horse health. Overweight animals may experience metabolic issues, such as obesity and insulin resistance, which in turn can cause colic, laminitis, and other problems.

Why Are Grazing Muzzles Effective for Preventing Laminitis?

Grazing muzzles effectively control what and how much your horse eats, which can help prevent laminitis. It’s important to properly fit the muzzle to ensure it is not causing any additional health issues.

A good grazing muzzle will allow your horse to forage and graze in a natural way without letting them to over-indulge.

For example, ThinLine’s horse grazing muzzle is adjustable, allowing you to vary your horse’s access to grass and feed. But it’s also comfortable and breathable. While wearing the Flexible Filly Slow Feed Grazing Muzzle, your equine friend can safely enjoy green pastures with no-rub comfort, plenty of airflow, and UV protection.