Equine vets are reporting a “sharp increase” in cases of laminitis, the British Horse Society (BHS) has warned.

In a statement, the charity said that due to the majority of the UK experiencing rain and periods of sunshine, it creates “the perfect conditions for rapid grass growth”.

Laminitis is an extremely painful condition and can cause permanent damage to the hooves — in some cases, even death.

It affects the sensitive lamellae located inside the horse’s hoof. The sensitive lamellae form a strong bond to hold the pedal bone in place within the hoof.

Laminitis causes the sensitive lamellae to stretch, weaken and become damaged, which can cause the pedal bone to move within the hoof.

In extreme cases the pedal bone can even penetrate through the sole of the hoof, which is excruciatingly painful. In such cases, euthanasia is likely to be the only treatment option to end the horse’s suffering.

Horses carrying excess weight or who have a health condition such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) or Cushing’s are at an increased risk of laminitis and so grazing may have to be restricted.

Equine obesity is a major welfare issue affecting the horse world at the moment, as regularly reported by Your Horse and its #FitNotFat initiative.

Crucially, it is important to note that every equine — not just ponies — can be affected by laminitis.

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The BHS advised horse owners to look out for subtle signs of early lamintis.

These include:

  • Reluctance to turn
  • A shortened stride/a stiffened gait
  • Shifting weight from foot to foot
  • Being careful or ‘footy’ on hard or stony ground and preferring to walk on soft ground
  • Change in behaviour and/or temperament
  • Reluctance to pick up their feet
  • Abnormal heat at the hoof wall or coronet
  • A strong digital pulse in the pastern

If you spot any of these signs, or if you have any concerns, contact your vet immediately. The earlier laminitis is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.

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