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How to Prevent and Treat Laminitis in Horses

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis is a painful condition that affects the hooves of horses. Laminitis is often caused by dietary and metabolic factors and is the local manifestation of a body-wide metabolic breakdown. Some of the leading causes are overeating of grains or large amounts of lush, green pasture grass, or when the horse develops insulin resistance or gains excess weight. Other causes include infections, colic, and various diseases or toxin exposure.

1 in 10 horses are diagnosed with this condition each year.

The horse’s foot has approximately 600 laminae that provide structural support and connect the coffin bone to the hoof wall, these soft tissues can become inflamed and stretch or separate from the bone, without this structural support, the coffin bone may rotate and create pressure on the sole, causing debilitating pain for the horse.

Some horses have a higher risk due to genetic factors, but all breeds and ages are susceptible to laminitis. Some recover completely, but many have lasting damage, once a horse experiences laminitis, there is risk of reoccurrence and proper care is critical for recovery.

Laminitis Basics

Signs your horse may have laminitis:

  • Abnormal stance: horse avoids bearing weight on front legs
  • Objection to movement: horse is in too much pain to move
  • Altered gait: horse may be lame in one or all legs
  • Shifting weight: horse may alternate weight bearing legs by frequently lifting leg up and placing down again.
  • Increased pulse: horses with laminitis may have a stronger pulse caused by inflammation and restricted blood flow.

Changes in hoof quality:

  • Flaring of the hoof wall: damaged laminae can cause the hoof to flare or have a dished appearance
  • Rings on the hooves: Inflammation and restricted blood flow to the hoof can cause the appearance of rings
  • Stretched white line: located around the inner edge of the hoof, the white line can become elongated

Metabolic disturbances:

  • High insulin levels: a known precursor to laminitis
  • Obesity: a sign of equine metabolic syndrome, is associated with a higher incidence of laminitis
  • Regional fat deposits: horses with laminitis may develop accumulation of fat along the neck, withers, rump and genitalia.

What to do:

Create a plan for identifying and correcting the underlying causes of laminitis while receiving professional care for your horse. Feed your horse a proper balance of protein, vitamins, and minerals to heal and repair, adjust the diet to achieve and maintain ideal body weight. Make sure the hooves are trimmed and comfortable.

Diet plans should restrict intake of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC’s) including sugars/fructans and starches. Excess NSC’s can increase the risk of hindgut disturbances and high insulin leading to laminitis.

Feeding legume hay (alfalfa, clover, lucerne) is usually the best place to start, along with a vitamin, mineral and protein supplement that complements the hay.

Supplement with a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. A study has suggested that adding psyllium pellets to feed can be beneficial to insulin stability as well.

Insulin resistance:

Sugars and starch cause blood glucose level and insulin to rise.

Items to avoid feeding horses with insulin resistance or laminitis, would be:

  • grain, apples, fruits, carrots, fresh grass, cereal grain hay including oat, wheat and barley.
  • even the levels in grass hays may be too high for many horses.
Minerals for Laminitis

Minerals also play an important role in the development and control on insulin resistance, adding specific minerals to your horse’s diet can add antioxidants and combat inflammation.

  • Copper and zinc are required for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase to function. Zinc is a commonly deficient mineral in equine forages.
  • Selenium is required for glutathione peroxidase enzymes, and many more important and widespread enzymes.
  • Selenium, together with iodine, is required for production of thyroid hormones. Normal thyroid function is required for horses to respond well to insulin.
  • Deficiency of magnesium can contribute to horses developing insulin resistance or make it worse.

Magnesium (Mg) is a micromineral (and electrolyte) that is involved in over 300 metabolic processes in the horse’s body. It is needed for proper nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis, energy metabolism, enzyme activity and is especially beneficial for muscle tissue recovery following intense exercise.

Magnesium can be beneficial to horses with laminitis and insulin resistance. Magnesium can also benefit bone health. Adding magnesium to their diets can be done though supplementation or high-quality feeds.

Supporting your horses gut health with prebiotics and probiotics; liver health with dandelion and milk thistle; circulation with nettles and hawthorn berries, and cinnamon to help with insulin, are some natural supports that can aid prevention and recovery.

Written by: Cher Thorsen, CNP


Lisa Square
Vykon Equine founded by Lisa Pitel-Killah, Hair Mineral Analysis Expert & Educator, Board-Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, Functional Diagnostic Practitioner, and multi-time Kettlebell Sport World Champion.  Her animal study includes Holistic Carnivore and Equine Nutritionist and advanced Animal HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis). Lisa is the host of the Human Optimization podcast and the co-host of the annual HTMA Virtual Summit, bringing mineral education to the masses.  The science of HTMA can identify exactly what your body, or your animal’s body, needs to thrive.  Customize, simplify, and revitalize life with Vykon.


Sue’s background includes being a two sport athlete in University and a member of Ontario Field Hockey team. She completed her CIS eligibility in College for photojournalism following 25 years as a photojournalist. Supporting two daughters through competitive hockey, Sue discovered her passion for Holistic Nutrition and returned to study at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, graduating with her Certified Nutrition Practitioner designation. She has a strong passion for supporting people through chronic stress. Sue enjoys time on the water, has her Level 1 SUP certification and recently started racing.


Kailan spent her youth on her family farm; from a young age she developed an interest in how the mental and physical wellness of animals can impact their bonding and performance. After improving the health of her equine companions, she has had some pivotal moments resulting in multiple national championship titles. Her inherent passion for health coupled with her degree in engineering has led her on this journey to help humans and animals alike realize the benefits of optimized health.  

Kailan’s goal is to enlighten others to the resources available, aid in resolving root cause of barriers and breakdown misconceptions surrounding poor behavioural patterns.


Yielding over a decade of professionalism in design and entrepreneurship, Grace is in charge of the many multimedia projects at Vykon. With an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design, her artistic eye and a flair for creativity brings a unique touch to every project she undertakes. When she’s not working, Grace enjoys trying new recipes, watching movies and spending an afternoon in an art gallery.