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X-rays - do you really need them to know it's Laminitis?

Many horse owners believe that Laminitis cannot be identified without the assistance of x-rays and an experienced vet. Whilst x-rays can certainly be helpful when it comes to understanding what’s going on internally, you as the horse owner should not need to depend on them for a thumbs up on a Laminitis diagnosis.

Before the witch hunt starts, I am not talking about an actual professional diagnosis. Instead, I am talking about an owner who drags their laminitic and clearly very sore horse in from their field to their stable without any idea to what could possibly be going on.

Being a member of a few different Laminitic Facebook groups, it’s not uncommon to see owners asking for help, support and advice on whether or not their horse is laminitic. Whilst it’s great that these groups exist for support in often dark times, it does highlight the ongoing lack of awareness around the early warning signs of Laminitis and even in an acute attack, the struggles owners have surrounding identifying the symptoms. A common comment I see is ‘you won’t know if it’s Laminitis without x-rays'.

Some may argue that we as horse owners shouldn’t need to be equipped with the knowledge to identify common equine conditions like Laminitis, whilst others may state these things should be left to the professionals. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to be so knowledgeable on specific medical conditions, but with some many vets and farriers/trimmers still living in the dark ages, it is the responsibility of you and I, the owners, to be clued up on what’s what.

So, let’s pull apart why the statement above is somewhat false.

I have talked about this before but using a professional hoof care practitioner or farrier that you wholeheartedly trust is imperative to your horse’s health. If you are unfamiliar with parts of the hoof and are unable to recognise blood in the white line yourself, you need to be able to rely on the person tending to your horse’s feet to notify you if they find any evidence of blood. Blood in the white line confirms that there are laminitic and inflammatory changes going on with your horse and the time to act is NOW. If your professional isn’t answering your questions, informing you of negative changes or is sweeping your concerns under the rug, then a new professional is very much needed.

Blood in the white line

Rotation is not the act of the pedal bone itself rotating but the process of the sole and hoof wall detaching from the pedal bone and deforming. When there is clear Laminitic stretch on the underside of the hoof, it is the detachment of the hoof from horse that you’re seeing. However, to typically get to the stage, there needs to be inflammation occurring on an ongoing basis for a set period of time. What I mean by this is you will not see a perfectly healthy hoof and horse present with Laminitic stretch overnight - it takes time for this to occur and the internal changes to happen. A horse can be laminitic without rotation, as I’m sure many of you know, so x-rays aren’t always going to show dramatic laminitic changes anyway.

Laminitic stretch highlighted by red outline

X-rays and blood in the white line aside, there are other numerous signs that confirm there is inflammation occurring. Fat pads over the eyes, neck, bottom, shoulders, sheath and back are all signs of EMS which tends to go hand-in-hand with Laminitis. Additionally, ongoing event lines down the outer hoof wall and footiness over anything but grass should always be setting off your internal, Laminitis-specific alarm bells. Remember, remember, remember – prevention is always better than cure, which entails keeping an eye out for the early warning signs and acting quickly should you spot them.

Event lines down the outer hoof wall

As always, different opinions and a discussion is always welcome in the comments below but we will not tolerate any bullying or rudeness towards ourselves or any commenters. Doing so will result in an immediate ban from the page.

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