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Laminitis in Pregnant BroodmaresBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 8, 2017

Even the mildest cases of laminitis cause panic among horse owners, leaving them wondering  what comes next. Will the uncomfortable shifting escalate to the dreaded sawhorse stance in an attempt to get the weight off painful feet? Will the sawhorse pose progress to recumbency within a few days? Will the coffin bone shift or sink through the sole of the foot?

If you think that is the worst-case scenario, consider a heavily pregnant mare suffering from the same bout of laminitis. Suddenly the ante increases dramatically because two lives are now at stake and the clock is ticking. She needs help fast!

Laminitis doesn’t have a formulaic treatment plan. Instead, treatment relies heavily on the underlying cause, varying markedly from patient to patient and from clinician to clinician. Regardless of the exact treatment plan an owner and veterinarian ultimately adopt, the plan should address all four main treatment goals:

  1. Cryotherapy, which involves application of ice-cold water to the feet immediately upon suspicion or identification of laminitis;
  2. Anti-inflammatory drug administration;
  3. Pain management; and
  4. Biomechanical optimization, which is the use of special shoes, pads, or other support appliances that will help minimize rotation, sinking, and abnormal pressure on the deep digital flexor tendon.

The list of medications aimed at decreasing inflammation, increasing blood flow to hooves, and slowing or arresting progression of disease is long; isoxsuprine, pentoxifylline, polymixin B, dimethylsulfoxide, nitroglycerine ointment or patches, phenylbutazone, and flunixin only brush the surface of what we are willing to give horses when needed.  

But are these medications safe for pregnant mares? To be honest, veterinarians really don’t know. Little information on the topic is available, so treating pregnant mares presents great challenges and frustrations.

“Avoiding laminitis is always the best policy, and in many cases mares can be better managed prior to pregnancy and in early pregnancy to avoid bouts of laminitis late in gestation,” advised Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

For maximal health, mares should maintain an appropriate body condition score (BCS) prior to and throughout gestation. Unnecessary weight on her hooves, in addition to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, puts a broodmare at a higher risk of developing laminitis than nonpregnant mares.

“Mares with a history of laminitis need to be managed carefully year-round to avoid flare-ups during gestation. Routine farriery, proper nutrition, and a hoof supplement such as Bio•Bloom PS will all help keep a broodmare’s hooves healthy so she can produce a healthy foal,” advised Crandell. Australian owners should look for Bio-Bloom.