How Well Do Horse Owners Recognize Laminitis?

How Well Do Horse Owners Recognize Laminitis?

Owners did not recognize laminitis in 42 out of 93 cases; rather, they cited undefined lameness, hoof abscess, or colic.

Photo: The Horse Staff

Knowing your horses and being an informed owner or caretaker are key to equine well-being. For instance, detecting and seeking veterinary intervention early in cases of laminitis, a complex condition with multiple causes, could head-off some of the condition’s debilitating effects.

A team of researchers compared differences in owner recognition versus veterinary diagnosis in 93 confirmed laminitis cases at 25 veterinary practices in Great Britain. In this cross-sectional study involving active laminitis cases in horses of various ages and breeds, both owners and veterinarians were asked to independently complete laminitis reporting forms.

Reporting forms included check boxes for 27 clinical signs, five underlying conditions, and seven risk factors associated with laminitis. Forms designed for owners featured explanatory diagrams and layman-friendly terminology. These reporting forms allowed researchers to ascertain whether cases of owner-suspected laminitis were confirmed as laminitis by the attending veterinarian, and to compare owner perception versus veterinary diagnosis.

In total, 51 owners suspected laminitis, all of which were confirmed as such by veterinarians. The remaining 42 confirmed cases had not being recognized by owners; in those cases, owners cited undefined lameness/stiffness, hoof abscess, or colic.

“One of our findings was that a relatively high proportion of owners in our study did not recognize laminitis at all; i.e., they either did not know what the problem was or suspected their horse had another condition,” noted researcher Danica Pollard, BSc, MSc, PhD candidate, of the Animal Health Trust in the U.K . “I would urge all horse owners to educate themselves with existing laminitis knowledge, especially about the more subtle but commonly-reported clinical signs associated with laminitis. While a horse standing with its front feet held in front of its body and rocking back on its heels is very characteristic of laminitis, it is found in considerably less episodes compared to a number of less obvious clinical signs. Additionally, information on which clinical signs appear first in most episodes, and how they progress, would help with earlier identification of disease episodes.”

She added that, in this study, owners recognized laminitis in ponies most commonly, and the majority of owners said they’d had “previous direct experience with the disease. Laminitis is a threat to all horses and ponies, and while some may be at a higher risk than others, it is important that laminitis is not excluded as a cause of lameness just based on breed type; particularly when a horse's previous clinical history is unknown.”

This study was part of a larger World Horse Welfare funded study aimed at providing further evidence on the frequency of, and risk factors for, equine laminitis in Great Britain. The results from this study should be available by the end of 2017.

Pollard’s study, “Assessment of horse owners’ ability to recognise equine laminitis: A cross-sectional study of 93 veterinary diagnosed cases in Great Britain,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.

About the Author

Natalie DeFee Mendik, MA

Freelance journalist Natalie DeFee Mendik is a multiple American Horse Publications editorial and graphics awards winner specializing in equestrian media. She holds an MA in English from Colorado State University and an International Federation of Journalists' International press card, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists. With over three decades of horse experience, Natalie’s main equine interests are dressage and vaulting. Having lived and ridden in England, Switzerland, and various parts of the United States, Natalie currently resides in Colorado with her husband and two girls.

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