A study conducted by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) has identified that one in every 10 horses/ponies may develop at least one laminitis episode each year, making it just as common as colic.
The research, done in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College and Rossdales Equine Hospital, and funded by World Horse Welfare, has emphasised that laminitis needs to be considered an important year-round equine welfare concern in Great Britain.
Not just a spring-time disease
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.
The study has also alerted horse and pony owners to the importance of recognising subtle signs of potentially life-threatening episodes.
Most laminitic animals were reported by their owners to display non-specific and mild clinical signs, including difficulty in turning and a short/stilted gait (also referred to as ‘pottery’ gait) or lameness at walk – present in over 70% of laminitis episodes.
However, less than a quarter of affected animals displayed the more classically recognised 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).
Findings suggested that owners are unaware of some clinical signs of laminitis, such as the presence of a bounding digital pulse, the correct assessment of which could contribute to earlier detection of laminitis episodes in the future.
Get an expert opinion
The study discovered that only half of the 123 owner-reported laminitis episodes were confirmed by a veterinary diagnosis. Therefore, despite laminitis being considered a medical emergency by vets and expert researchers, many animals with laminitis are not receiving initial veterinary attention.
Owners are encouraged to consult their vets 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.
Dr. Danica Pollard, of the AHT, said: “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.
“Horse and pony owners should remain vigilant at all times of the year and be particularly aware of the perhaps more subtle clinical signs of laminitis which are a better representation of the majority of laminitis episodes.”
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