Assessing Lameness Severity in Horses with Chronic Laminitis

Assessing Lameness Severity in Horses with Chronic Laminitis

Veterinarians typically diagnose chronic laminitis based on a horse's display of lameness and the characteristic laminitis stance, with forelimbs placed out in front and hind limbs positioned under the body.

Photo: Christy M. West

The pain and lameness horses with chronic laminitis experience are what make this disease a top concern in the equine veterinary community. Evaluating lameness severity, however, is largely subjective. At the 6th International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Oct. 28-31 in West Palm Beach, Fla., David Hood, DVM, PhD, discussed the use of force plate-based technology for quantifying lameness severity in chronically laminitic horses.

Hood, who investigated the technology with colleagues at his Hoof Diagnostic and Rehabilitation Clinic (HDRC), in Bryan, Texas, explained that veterinarians typically diagnose chronic laminitis based on a horse's display of lameness and the characteristic laminitis stance, with forelimbs placed out in front and hind limbs positioned under the body. They determine disease severity by assessing lameness, which is proportional to pain; a horse in severe pain has a grave prognosis.

In his observational study Hood evaluated 30 horses admitted to the HDRC and diagnosed with laminitis. He assigned each horse an Obel grade (from from I-IV, where IV is extremely lame and reluctant to walk), which among veterinarians is currently the accepted subjective method of evaluating lameness in horses with chronic laminitis. He also took radiographs (X rays) to define which of the horses' feet were affected.

Each horse then stood on a force plate for five minutes so veterinarians could record the ground force reaction data, or how the horse was loading each foot. Researchers also calculated each horse's center of load (COL) and how it differed from that of a normal, healthy horse. From this information--termed the mean load stance pattern--the researchers determined correlations between a horse's stance and lameness; the COL and lameness; and stance and the foot involved.

Overall, Hood observed that:

  • A laminitic horse's COL points to the least lame foot;
  • Twenty-two horses (73%) had greater than 5% load difference between their forefeet. All horses favored one forefoot over the other;
  • In the horses that it was displaced to the hind, the COL was displaced more to the left hind (14 horses) than the right hind (5 horses); and
  • The greater the caudal displacement (toward the hind end), the greater the lameness severity.

In conclusion Hood noted that this method of determining lameness severity in laminitic horses is relatively safe, as compared to jogging a horse over a hard surface. He also believes this to be a more objective and accurate lameness severity index, with no outside interference. Furthermore, it enhances the veterinarian's diagnosis and "is critical to evaluating and comparing treatments used in rehabilitation of the horse with chronic laminitis," said Hood.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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