Researchers Seeking Horse Owner Help in Laminitis Study

Researchers are in the midst of collecting data for a study designed to shed additional light on acute laminitis (an inflammation of the sensitive laminae that connect the horse's hoof to the coffin bone) in horses, and they're looking for help from owners of laminitic horses to be included in the study.

The ongoing research, "A Case-Control Study of Pasture- and Endocrinopathy-Associated Laminitis (PEAL) in Horses," is the first in a series of studies collectively called The Laminitis Research Project, a $1 million campaign the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation launched in late 2011.

Recently Michelle Coleman, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, assistant research scientist at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and study coordinator, shared some insight about the study and how horse owners can help.

How Did It Start?

"Laminitis is a disease of considerable importance for horses and horse-owners and is consistently ranked as a top priority for research by members of the AAEP," Coleman said. "Participants at the 2nd AAEP Foundation's Laminitis Research Workshop, held in November 2009, identified epidemiologic studies of naturally acquired laminitis as the highest priority for investigation."

Subsequently, the AAEP Foundation established a Laminitis Research Advisory Board, and principal investigator Noah Cohen, VMD, MPH, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, developed an investigation strategy while the AAEP Foundation secured funding from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., and other donors to support the current epidemiologic study at Texas A&M.

"The aim of the study is to collect data from first-time cases of acute laminitis seen by private practitioners throughout the country with the goal of identifying risk factors associated with the development of this form of the disease," Coleman said. "The results of this study will identify strategies for managing or preventing acute laminitis and help prioritize the direction of further laminitis research."

The study is designed to collect data from naturally occurring first-time cases of acute laminitis not caused by colic, infection, or excessive weight-bearing on one limb (supporting limb laminitis).

Much of the laminitis research carried out previously has involved experimentally-induced laminitis. The research team pointed out that this type of approach has two major problems: "First, it is not good from a welfare standpoint, to cause disease in horses. Second, experimental disease is usually a poor mimic of natural disease," the research team said.

This study's approach has the advantages of not causing any additional disease in study horses, and the findings should be directly relevant to similar types of naturally-developing laminitis.

What's Required?

The study is aimed at collecting data from AAEP-member equine veterinarians from the U.S. and Canada. More than 70% of AAEP members responding to a recent survey indicated they were willing to participate in research of naturally acquired diseases/disorders.

Each participating veterinarian is asked to gather data about signalment (i.e., age, breed, and sex), diet, housing, health management, body measurements(i.e.. height, mid-neck circumference, etc), and blood samples from one incident case of laminitis and two horses without laminitis, which will serve as controls.

Peggy Marsh, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVECC, an internal medicine specialist at the full-service ambulatory practice Equine Medical Associates, in Lexington, Ky., has submitted two full data sets for the study and encouraged other practitioners to take part as well.

"To participate in this study a veterinarian needs to register first, then they will be sent a data collection packet with everything needed," Marsh explained. "It is important for the veterinarian to read the information provided on the website, in particular the case inclusion criteria.

"There is a time commitment to participate," she added. "However, the more cases of laminitis that are included, the more useful the result will be to increase our understanding of this devastating problem."

How Can I Help?

This project's success depends on horse-owner and veterinary involvement, Coleman said. While more than 450 veterinarians throughout the United States and Canada have currently registered to take part in the study, she said, data collection has, thus far, been a slow process.

Thus, the research team is renewing their call for case submission and asking for horse owners' help in furthering the veterinary community's collective understanding of laminitis.

"Although veterinarian registration exceeded our expectation, data collection is currently lagging," she added. The team is hoping to collect data on 400 laminitis cases and 800 control horses but they need the help of the horse owners to identify the cases early and notifying their veterinarian. There is no cost to the owner for enrolling the horse in the laminitis study.

Horse owners need to identify cases of acute laminitis rapidly to minimize the life-threatening and long-term hoof damage of this serious disease. Any horse that exhibits acute change of gait or stance should trigger the owner to call their veterinarian. Acute laminitis horses often are reluctant to come to their food, are difficult to lead, or are noted to not be moving around normally in the pasture.

"Veterinarian and horse owner involvement is extremely important to the success of this project and to advancing the future diagnosis and treatment of equine laminitis," Coleman said. "While only veterinarians are permitted to submit the data, horse owners are encouraged to alert their veterinarians to cases of laminitis that could be included in the study."

"In general (horse owners are) very willing to participate, even by reminding their veterinarians of the study if they suspect their horse has laminitis," Marsh added.

For additional information on the PEAL study, visit the study website at

The Laminitis Research Project Advisory Board includes: James Belknap, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS; Lawrence Bramlage, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS; Noah Cohen, VMD, MPH, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM (Principal Investigator) TAMU CVM; Michelle Coleman, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Study Coordinator) TAMU CVM; Susan Eades, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM; Bryan Fraley, DVM; Hannah Galantino-Homer, VMD, PhD; Raymond Geor, BVSc, MVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM; Robert Hunt, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS; Molly McCue, DVM, MS, PhD; C. Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, DSc, Dipl. ACVS; Rustin Moore, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS ; John Peroni, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS; Hugh Townsend, DVM, MSc, BSc; and Nathaniel White II, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS.

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