Horse Body Weight, Age Important Laminitis Risk Factors

The risk factors associated with laminitis are many—from grass access to obesity to stall confinement. But which ones are most important for owners to watch for? James Orsini, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) New Bolton Center got one step closer to answering this question with their retrospective study of laminitic horses admitted to UPenn's George D. Widener Hospital. He presented their findings at the 2013 International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Nov. 1-3 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

In their retrospective study, Orsini's team looked back at UPenn's George D. Widener Hospital records from 2007-2010 to identify patients that were hospitalized with laminitis of a known cause (e.g., supporting-limb, endocrine-related, etc.) and ultimately euthanized. Seventy-three horses of various breeds and uses fit the criteria for inclusion in the study. Orsini's team then compared these horses' degree of distal phalanx (coffin bone) rotation with their use, age, body weight, body condition score (BCS), and pain medications prescribed.

Although they noted some differences between clinical signs depending on the disease etiology (for instance, supporting-limb laminitis occurred in younger horses and was the most severe form of disease whereas endocrine-related laminitis occurred in older horses and appeared to be more insidious), Orsini said body condition and age were among the most consistent and important risk factors.

On the whole, "the findings regarding body weight and BCS validate the importance of maintaining ideal BCS as one of the best and easiest management strategies for preventing laminitis," he said. "Ideal body weight and regular exercise are important factors for good health in human and animals. The horse is no different in this regard, and the combination of body weight, BCS, age, and use should be closely monitored in horse to reduce the likelihood of laminitis in the at-risk horse."

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.