Understanding Autumn Laminitis in Horses

As the vibrant colors of autumn take hold and temperatures begin to drop, horse owners must remain vigilant about a hidden threat that often emerges during this season – autumn laminitis. Laminitis is a painful and potentially life-threatening condition that affects horses’ hooves, and its occurrence tends to spike during the transition from summer to autumn.

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis, often referred to as founder, is a severe inflammation of the laminae, which are sensitive tissues that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone within the horse’s hoof. This condition disrupts the proper alignment of these structures, leading to excruciating pain and potentially causing the hoof wall to detach from the coffin bone.

Causes of Autumn Laminitis

Rich Pasture Grasses: One of the primary triggers of autumn laminitis is the lush, new growth of pasture grasses that often occurs during this season. These grasses can be rich in sugars and carbohydrates, which can lead to digestive disturbances and insulin spikes in horses, increasing the risk of laminitis.

Insulin Resistance: Horses with insulin resistance are more susceptible to laminitis. Autumn’s cool nights and warm days can promote the accumulation of sugars in pasture grasses, further increasing the risk for horses prone to metabolic issues.

Obesity: Overweight horses are at a higher risk of developing laminitis. Autumn is a season when some horses tend to gain weight due to reduced exercise and increased access to lush pastures.

Stress and Change in Routine: Changes in routine, such as stabling horses that are accustomed to being on pasture, can induce stress, which is a known laminitis trigger.

Symptoms of Autumn Laminitis

Recognizing the early signs of laminitis is crucial for timely intervention. Common symptoms include:

  1. Lameness: Affected horses often display an obvious reluctance to move and may shift their weight from foot to foot.
  2. Increased Digital Pulse: An elevated digital pulse is a common indicator of laminitis, as it reflects increased blood flow to the hooves.
  3. Heat in Hooves: The hooves may feel warm to the touch due to inflammation.
  4. Sawhorse Stance: Horses may adopt a sawhorse stance, where they extend their front legs forward and rock back on their hind legs to relieve pressure on the front hooves.

Prevention and Management

Dietary Management: Limit access to lush pasture grasses and high-sugar feeds. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to create a suitable diet plan.

Regular Exercise: Maintain a consistent exercise routine for your horse, even during the autumn months, to help control weight and reduce the risk of metabolic issues.

Weight Management: Monitor your horse’s weight and body condition score, making adjustments to their diet as needed to prevent obesity.

Routine Hoof Care: Regular hoof trims and farrier visits are essential for managing and preventing laminitis.

Consult with a Veterinarian: If you suspect laminitis, contact your veterinarian immediately for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.

Autumn laminitis is a serious concern for horse owners as the season transitions and brings about changes in pasture quality and weather. Understanding the causes, recognizing early symptoms, and implementing preventative measures are crucial for safeguarding your horse’s hoof health and overall well-being. By staying informed and proactive, you can help ensure a comfortable and pain-free autumn for your equine companion.