Humans domesticated horses millennia ago, changing the way our ancestors traveled, fought, and survived. They are majestic, beautiful creatures built for speed and power.
Sadly, one of the most serious and devastating diseases affecting horses, ponies, and other equine animals is laminitis. Let’s take a closer look at laminitis and how low-level laser therapy can give our equine companions a leg up.
What is Laminitis?
Laminitis describes a condition wherein the laminae—the tissues bonding the hoof wall to the pedal bone in a horse’s hoof—become weakened and inflamed from disruptions in blood flow, leading to tears in the structure supporting the pedal bone within the hoof. Laminitis typically occurs in a horse’s front feet. The condition is caused by various physical and metabolic issues, including:
- An excessive intake of grain or grass
- High levels of insulin
- Enlargement of the pars intermedia in the pituitary gland
- Impact from riding on hard surfaces
- Stress from long distance travel
This can result in tremendous pain, lameness, and deterioration in the hoof. Left untreated, laminitis can cause the pedal bone to rotate and point downwards. In worst cases, the pedal bone will penetrate through the hoof wall.
Laminitis greatly reduces a horse’s usefulness, and many horse owners are forced to put down the horse to prevent further suffering.
Many traditional treatments are expensive and time-consuming and don’t guarantee full recovery. These include changing your horse’s diet, providing greater hoof care, and moving your horse to a different enclosure featuring deep shavings or sand. Severe cases wherein the pedal bone has sunken through the hoof require surgical procedures involving tendon release, but this can put the horse at risk of infection or cause damage to surrounding structures.
Low-level laser therapy has been used in humans to treat joint pain, edema, soreness, and wounds, but veterinarians have extended these laser treatments to horses suffering from laminitis. Studies show that the photon energy in a low-level laser stimulates blood vessels in a horse’s foot, promoting greater circulation, better tissue nutrition, and ultimately faster healing. Laser therapy also greatly reduces the chance of infection or damage to surrounding areas as the procedure is entirely non-invasive.
Animal Health Options, a purveyor of innovative and effective supplements for animal wellness since 1990, has found success in incorporating low-level laser therapy into its treatment for laminitis. Horses undergo low-level laser sessions two to three times a week. This is coupled with:
- A restrictive diet to reduce weight and make up for insulin resistance
- Plenty of lying down to keep pressure off the affected feet
- Visits with a farrier to trim hooves to correct the angle of the feet
One of the best ways to treat laminitis is to prevent it from happening altogether. While you can’t always predict your horse’s health, you can control parts of his environment, primarily his diet. Too much grain or lush green grass leads to excessive sugars stored in the hind gut. When these sugars are absorbed, the horse develops hyperinsulinemia (an overload of insulin), which can trigger laminitis. A bad diet can also lead to obesity, putting more pressure on your horse’s hooves. To keep your horse’s diet in check:
- Feed your horse a high fiber, forage-based diet, comprising a mixture of mature grass, hay, and alfalfa. Vegetable oils can be included in this diet for added calories.
- Carefully manage grazing. Considering grazing your horse at night, when sugar levels are lowest.
- Avoid hard feed unless your horses are performing hard work.
Maintain a regular hoof trimming schedule for good hoof health. Your horse may also need specialist shoeing for proper support.