Managing laminitic horses

Sensitive hooves can happen for many reasons. Laminitis is one of them. It’s a painful and often detrimental hoof condition that is commonly associated with endocrine diseases, including insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and equine Cushing’s disease (PPID, pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction).

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Background

To avoid development or improve an existing laminitic episode, it is essential that underlying systemic endocrine problems are addressed in addition to treating the foot itself. As major regulators of whole body homeostasis, hormonal imbalance is cause of several metabolic problems. Particularly, insulin dysregulation (ID) has been strongly implicated in the development of laminitis. 

Comparative views between health hoof and laminitic hoof

Insulin dysregulation (ID) 

ID is a multifactorial condition involving all major physiological pathways in the body. Although named after a similar condition in human, horses rarely become diabetic (i.e. insulin dependent), however typical symptoms include elevated basal insulin levels and excessive insulin release after a meal intake. Additionally, horses that are overweight or have equine metabolic syndrome, have abnormal fat metabolism which further contributes to changes in hormone production including insulin as well as alterations in immune function.

Understanding the triggers

Prevention is key 

The most important way to prevent it is to monitor the horse’s feed, especially for fructans, the sugars found in grasses. 

Along with fructans, avoid sugar and starch (max 1 g/kg body weight per meal for IR horses and max 1.5 g/kg body weight per meal for healthy horses) and excess protein. Sensitive horses need to be fed most of their energy in the form of fibre and fats. Dried hay, beet pulp, lucerne, and oils can be used here. Limit the amounts of sugar and starch in the feed ration. 

In addition to changes to feeding, it is also important that the horse’s digestive system and metabolism be supported and the production of certain hormones be kept in balance. 

If, despite all preventive measures, the horse develops laminitis, it is important to treat the pain as quickly as possible, to stimulate the lymphatic system and the blood circulation in the foot, and to stop the inflammatory reaction from spreading. Make the horse as comfortable as possible by providing a soft surface in its box, for example a thick layer of sawdust or straw. You can also provide temporary relief by cooling the horse’s feet with cold water. 

Extra hoof care is also recommended. Customised shoes and products for external application can also provide relief and accelerate the recovery of the hoof. 

Triggers

  • Oversupply of sugar and starch, 
  • often in connection with proteins 
  • Exercise on hard surfaces 
  • Certain medications 
  • Retained placenta in a mare, etc. 

Horses prone to laminitis must be carefully monitored on pasture

Small ponies and draught horse breeds are particularly susceptible to laminitis. These breeds are known as “easy keepers” because of their tendency to gain weight. Horses that have had laminitis in the past should not be turned out in pastures that are too rich, as this often leads to weight gain. But even barren pastures can lead to problems, so always pay attention to the fructan content of the grass when choosing the right time to turn out. Grass is highest in fructans in afternoons during times when nights are cold and days are sunny (spring and autumn). 

Optimum grazing times for horses with laminitis

Fructan content explained

Plants exposed to sunlight undergo photo-synthesis, a process in which fructan, a type of sugar, is produced. Fructan is necessary for plant growth. Along with sunlight, growth also requires certain temperatures, water, and nutrients. If these factors are not sufficiently present, the fructan is stored in the plant until it can be used at a later time. 

The fructan content of grass varies greatly depending on the time of day and can change drastically within a few hours. It will be many times higher on cold, sunny days than on warm, cloudy, or rainy days. The highest fructan concentrations are to be expected in sunny, frosty weather, when the temperature falls below 5 °C at night, or when the pasture is not fertilised (nutrient deficiency) or extremely dry (water deficiency). 

Management approaches

Horses that are prone to laminitis need a total approach considering feeding, management and movement.

Farrier

Your farrier will provide invaluable advice and may suggest corrective or assistive shoeing for your horse or pony.

Care

The addition use of a specialist hoof oil such as Cavalor PodoSens will bring external relief and reduce sensitivity of the hoof. Nutritional supplements containing essential oils such as Cavalor LaminAid should be considered.

Pasture 

Be careful with pasture that is rich in fructans and protein when your horse is prone to laminitis. Especially on cold and sunny days, the amount of fructans in grass can be quiet high. 

Roughage 

Roughage is the main part of your horse’s diet. Use dry and fibrous hay that is low in sugar. 

Movement 

Make sure the horse can stand on a soft surface. If possible, encourage the horse to move. This will increase the circulation and speed up the healing. 

Concentrates

Use concentrates that are low in sugar and starch. 

Cavalor FiberForce is high in fiber and contains only 3 % starch and 5 % sugar, which makes it ideally for horses that have metabolic issues. 

Is your horse too fat and do you want him to lose weight? 

Cavalor Silhouette is also low in sugar and starch but has a higher amount of protein. Specially designed for horses to lose weight safely. Loss of fat but no loss of muscle.