Laminitis does not just affect podgy ponies

When we think of laminitis we usually think of the overweight child’s pony having had too much spring grass.

Muffy did not fit this stereotype. She is a trusted retired hunter, never had a day off sick. It was autumn so the grass is less rich, and although having a little middle age spread, she was not overweight.

There are in fact many causes of laminitis, although there is often (more than 75 per cent of cases) an underlying hormonal condition predisposing the horse or pony to this painful foot condition.

The laminae are what hold the hoof to the bone in the foot.

Laminitis is a swelling of these fin-like structures and is very painful as all the horse’s weight goes through them.

Muffy was given emergency treatment.

A blood sample revealed that she was ‘cushingoid’; her body was producing too much natural steroid and so treatment was started for cushings disease (PPID).

A couple of weeks later the Alnorthumbria equine department hosted a well attended farrier training day. There was a morning of lectures, including our very own Lesley Barwise-Munro (vet), speaking on hind limb lameness, Jim Ferrie, consultant farrier, speaking on shoeing the performance horse, and a guest speaker Jason Ro-Trammel, from the United States, discussing the use of stem cells in the treatment of laminitis.

It was a fascinating talk and brilliant to have some new thinking on how to treat this extremely painful condition of the horse’s foot.

We have used stem cells for some time to aid in tendon healing, but never to treat laminitis.

First the horses have to undergo liposuction, the stem cells are harvested from the fat and then injected into the veins supplying the feet while a tourniquet is tied above the foot to keep the stem cells around the feet for 10 minutes.

He reported a huge improvement in comfort levels over the next few days and the blood supply to the feet dramatically improved over the next few weeks.

Although in the experimental stage, it is exciting to have some new pioneering treatments on the horizon. It is thought that the stem cells do not themselves change into the cells that make the new blood vessels and new laminae cells. Rather the stem cells co-ordinate, direct and attract cells from the body to aid in the healing of the laminae.

The afternoon was a practical session, with the farriers demonstrating different techniques to keep horses sound.

For this we are very grateful to the clients who brought their horses in to be used in the demonstration.

As part of the research project for stem cells, Jason needed a standard way to shoe all the laminitic horses in his trial. He decided to use wooden clogs!

The clogs he used had a layer of firm foam on top which would mould to the underside of the horse’s foot. He used a casting material around the hoof to hold the clogs in place.

When Muffy was given this novel shoeing technique she certainly walked out much more comfortably than when she walked into Fairmoor Equine Clinic.

When I checked up on her the following week she seemed much happier and was starting to return to her cheeky self. The clogs looked great and were staying in place nicely.

Hopefully, as well as making her comfortable, this will allow her to turn the corner with this debilitating condition.