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What are some risk factors for your horse developing laminitis?

Horses of any type can develop laminitis - so it’s always a good idea to monitor every horse closely for any sign of laminitis.  As with most medical issues, and especially with laminitis, do not wait to call the Veterinarian.  Early intervention is critical!  There are also some horses in the world that are more likely to develop laminitis - and the more you work with your Veterinarian the more likely you are to manage the risks.  Here is what you should know about laminitis risk factors:




  • Metabolic issues, such as IR (insulin resistance), EMS (equine metabolic syndrome) and Cushing’s disease all are risk factors for laminitis. Simple blood tests can alert you to any brewing issues, long before you see the tell tale signs of fatty deposits, cresty necks, and insane winter coats.  Some Veterinarians suggest yearly tests for these conditions on all horses over the age of 13, with exceptions for younger horses on a case by case basis.  


  • Management of these conditions with a low carbohydrate diet, grazing muzzles, repeat blood work, medications, and diligent grooming can help you reduce the laminitis risk. Every horse is going to be different - it’s up to you and your Veterinarian to come up with a good treatment plan, and up to you alone to do the daily monitoring and execution of the plan!


  • Age/gender/size. Older horses are at a higher risk of laminitis, as are geldings.  Ponies are more likely to develop laminitis than horses.  


  • Rich pasture and high sugar content feeds are certainly higher in “sugars” which are known to play a part in some laminitis cases.  If you have any doubts or concerns about your horse’s diet, an Equine Nutritionist can help you sort things out.  . 


  • The obese horse is more likely to develop laminitis, among other things.  Exercise levels may also play a part in your horse’s laminitis risk profile.  It’s very easy for your Veterinarian to guide you through how to determine your horse’s body score to analyze his weight.  It’s also super easy for you to tape your horse frequently to determine his weight - this will help you in tracking trends over time. 


  • Certainly the propensity for developing laminitis is carried in your horse’s genes.  Hoof design and size and strength all play a role here, too. 


A hoof in danger will usually feel warm or hot, be sensitive, be unwilling to turn, and have a palpable or strong digital pulse. 


There are also a few other factors that can happen to any horse, at any time.


  • Supporting limb laminitis occurs when a horse’s injured leg is too painful to bear weight, so his other leg bears more than it’s fair share and develops laminitis.  The race horse Barbara is a famous example of this. 


  • Road founder, aka concussive laminitis, happens when the footing is hard and unforgiving and your horse experiences repeated concussions on his hooves.  This is case in point of why icing your horse’s legs and hooves after exercise on any questionable footing is a good idea. 


  • The dreaded loose horse that gorges on grain. Laminitis here occurs due to the violent overload of sugars in your horse’s system that trigger dangerous amounts of endotoxins, a by product of digestion, which cause laminitis.  


Get those hooves in some ice! 

The bottom line is to know your horse inside and out.  Work closely with your Veterinarian regarding weight, regular blood work, an exercise program, and appropriate pasture types and time for your horse.  Remember, too, that one call to your Veterinarian if you even remotely suspect laminitis can save his life.  Begin ice therapy on the hooves immediately and follow your Veterinarian's treatment plan to the letter.  Don’t wait!