Despite Precautions, Laminitis Strikes My Dream Horse
The same week my new Maryland Equestrian Novel series prequel, Dream Horse, was published, my very own dream horse walked in sore from evening turnout. I immediately swung into action, checking her digital pulse under the suspicion that she was experiencing the start of a laminitis flare up. I wasn’t wrong, because that is indeed what was going on: throbbing pulse in both front legs, uncomfortable stance, listlessness. I was at once heartbroken for her and very angry with myself for “letting this happen.” You see, I have another retired horse who has had several laminitis episodes due to battling his equine metabolic issues. I knew the signs. I had been careful to watch for them, but… My little mare, Dressed for Tea, can get fat on air and has a Houdini like ability to get out of any grazing muzzle you put on her.
STEP ONE: Look for the cause in order to avoid a future flare-up, NOT in order to beat yourself up over it.
I had already adjusted her diet to a low-starch feed and kept them all on limited turn out in a pasture without lush grass. Surprise, sometimes “stressed grass” has a higher sugar content than a longer, lush field. I also discussed with my vet whether the joint injection she received a week earlier for a problem joint could be the culprit, as cortisone (steroids) can cause such a reaction. Indeed, my vet was concerned about that very issue and therefore did not use cortisone in the injection “cocktail.” Alas, we suspect she is sensitive to clover, because as soon as the horses started eating it in quantities to cause “the drools,” she became sore a few weeks later. For owners, it is a constant guessing game of what’s enough and what is too much.
What to Do When Laminitis Strikes
To combat this insidious disease and keep it from causing permanent damage to the hoof resulting from separation of the laminae and rotation of the coffin bone (founder), the first thing is to reduce swelling and pain, of course. I soaked both feet in ice water for twenty minutes. Tea also received 500lb dose of Banamine twice daily. It is important to support the sole of the hoof, so she was fitted with orthopedic “slippers” consisting of a layer of Magic Cushion (a heat reducing agent), a piece of extruded dense polystyrene (which molds to the sole of the hoof), secured with VetWrap and gorilla tape.
STEP TWO: Reduce swelling, pain, and provide support to the hoof’s sole.
In order to work towards stopping the triggers from the digestive tract/hind gut suspected of causing the shunting into the hooves, she was put on Sucralfate (an ulcer medication) four times daily. She is also on Thyro-L to help manage her metabolism. I switched her feed to Ration Balancer, and limited or completely restricted turn out. I’m investigating when the highest sugar content is present in the grass and striving to eliminate clover as much as possible. I’ve learned I must be much more vigilant in keeping an eye on her weight, especially since she is now in her “teenaged” years. Later on, other tests on her metabolic health and thyroid function may be undertaken. When she is left in the stall, I make sure that it is deeply bedded for extra support.
STEP THREE: Investigate systemic and metabolic causes “inside” the horse in addition to managing her environment and feed.
The Way Forward
This week Tea looks much more comfortable. She isn’t shifting her weight from foot to foot and she is brighter and more engaged with everything going on around her. That said, she still looks as if she steps tentatively and we are far from being out of the woods. She remains on anti-inflammatory drugs and other supportive medications, her feet are wrapped, and she goes out in a dry lot (with her buddies because otherwise she’ll run the fence). I’m cautiously optimistic that she will get through this without permanent damage and that she will be rideable again. I don’t know when that will be or what’s ahead, so I also pray a lot.