HomeExpert AdviceArticleIs your horse at risk of laminitis?

Is your horse at risk of laminitis?

Posted in Health and Veterinary

Understand the warning signs of laminitis, and how management tools like weigh taping and condition scoring can reduce the risk

Clare Barfoot BSc (Hons) RNutr, registered nutritionist and research and development manager for Spillers Horse Feeds explains what you need to know to help protect your horse.

How to check for laminitis?

Always treat laminitis as an emergency.

Possible signs of laminitis:

• Extreme lameness and unwillingness to move.

• Signs of general pain such as patchy sweating, increased breathing rate and colic type signs.

• Pronounced increase in the rate and strength of the digital pulse. This can be felt where the digital artery runs over the back of the fetlock.

• Characteristic stance with the forelimbs extended in front with the hind limbs brought forward in an attempt to shift the weight off the fore limbs.

• Unwillingness to lift either front foot off the ground.

• Shifting weight from side to side.

• Painful response when pressure is applied to the sole of the foot.

What can you do to help reduce the risk?

Most laminitis occurs in grazing horses The first thing you can do is keep your horse nice and slim. Aim to maintain a moderate body condition if using a body scoring system keep the score between 4 and 5 (out of 9). This will reduce the risk of both nutritional and concussive laminitis as well as reducing the risk of developing insulin resistance which can also contribute to the condition.

The next consideration is diet; choose a feed that is low in starch and sugar and high in fibre, with added vitamins and minerals that has been approved by The Laminitis Trust.

Avoid cereals and cereal based feeds such as coarse mixes (even “cool” mixes) as these can contribute to cereal overload and can cause large fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin that again can contribute to insulin resistance.

As most laminitis occurs in grazing horses, careful management is required, especially during the spring and autumn, although consideration is needed throughout the year.

It is impossible to predict the level of fructan in pasture at any given time, however the following guide will help you reduce the risk:

• Avoid/restrict turning out in spring (before flower development) and autumn when water soluble carbohydrate and fructan levels are likely to be highest.

• Turn horses out to pasture late at night until early morning, removing them from pasture by mid-morning at the latest.

• Avoid pastures that have not been properly managed by regular grazing or cutting.

• Restrict grass intake by using a grazing muzzle (that still allows drinking), grazing with sheep, turning out in a sparse paddock or by strip grazing. Do not strip graze if a large quantity of grass is available. Turning out in an arena or woodchip surfaced area may also be beneficial.

• Do not turn horses out onto pasture that has been exposed to low temperatures in conjunction with bright sunlight, especially sunny frosty mornings.

• Do not allow animals to graze on recently cut stubble such as after hay harvest.

• In known laminitics consider no grazing, whilst providing a suitable forage.

• Choose mature forages such as late cut hay that are likely to be lower in water soluble carbohydrate. Alfalfa is also suitable as it is low in fructan but does contain starch so it is advisable to have it analysed before feeding. Good hygienic straw, when appropriate, can also be mixed with hay to reduce its energy density.

What should you do if your horse gets laminitis?

If you suspect laminitis, you should seek veterinary attention immediatly, as early interventions like remedial shoeing may be advised straight away to avoid any sinking or rotation of the pedal bone.

Your vet will also be able to offer advise on management suited to your particilar case. In general management should focus around providing a good supportive surface such as thick shavings, peat or sand bed preferably over rubber matting.

Grazing should be avoided until your horse or pony is sound and you are advised by your vet it is safe to start turning out again. Hay should be provided to replace grazing and can be soaked for 1-2 hours to reduce the water soluble carbohydrate content.

If your horse or pony is overweight, restrict the amount of fibre to 1.5% of their ideal bodyweight for example 7.5kg for a 500kg horse.

Choose a feed approved by The Laminitis Trust that also provides a good supply of vitamins and minerals, as this is very important to support the repair of any damage to the laminar tissue as well as your horse’s general well being.

The Laminitis Trust

Global research into laminitis recommends high fibre diets with low levels of soluble carbohydrates and fructans, and a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals.

Spillers Happy Hoof and Spillers High Fibre Cubes contain essential vitamins and minerals with high fibre, low starch and low sugars – making it perfectly suited for horses and ponies prone to laminitis.

What is fibre?

We commonly think of fibre as grass, hay and haylage that make up the forage portion of our horses diets, but fibre is contained to a greater or lesser extent in many feeding stuffs. Fibre comes in long form as grass, hay and haylage, in chopped forms as with chaffs, and thirdly in ground form as cubes and mixes.

Horses are natural fibre digesters. Over two thirds of the equine digestive capacity is principally devoted to the digestion and absorption of nutrients from fibre, compared to just 20% for processing protein, starch and oil.

The importance of fibre

After water, fibre is the most important nutrient for any horse. Not only do horses have a physical need for fibre to maintain their digestive function and the health of the digestive tract, they also have a psychological need to chew for 60% of the time as a form of activity.

It is therefore advisable that fibre should make up at least 50% of the equine diet.

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