Laminitis is a common condition that can affect horses of all ages and sizes, not just those that are overweight as we once thought, although nutrition and diet do play an important role in managing this condition. Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best feeds for a horse with laminitis.
What is laminitis?
Laminitis is a condition that can ultimately cause the hoof wall to detach from the pedal bone within a horse’s foot. It affects the soft tissue within the hoof and can be incredibly painful for horses. Various factors contribute to the risk of laminitis; excessive weight bearing or working on very hard ground are mechanical causes but the most common are linked to hormonal and metabolic issues like PPID and EMS.
Diet is also a contributing factor and is usually the final trigger that results in clinical signs in horses that have an underlying metabolic issue.
What are the signs?
It’s important that you’re aware of the signs and symptoms your horse may show when they’re suffering from laminitis, catching the problem early usually results in a more successful outcome. Here are a few tell-tale signs to look out for:
- Lameness: if your horse is reluctant to walk or unable to move freely then consider that laminitis may be the reason especially if they are overweight
- Shifting weight: If your horse is suffering from laminitis, you may notice them shifting from one foot to the other and rocking back onto their heels to take the weight off the front of their feet. They may also shift their bodyweight on to their hind limbs to take pressure off their front feet
- Hoof sensitivity: You may notice your horse reacting when pressure is applied to the hoof, for example when walking over hard surfaces or if a farrier or vet applies pressure to the hoof.
- Increased digital pulse: The pulse felt in the arteries in the fetlock may be more pronounced in horses suffering from laminitis. You can check this by placing your fingers on the arteries located at the back of the fetlock.
What should you feed an at-risk horse?
Diet plays an important role in the management of horses that are prone to this condition for a few reasons, for example, to manage weight, and reduce the intake of high sugar and starch feeds that contribute to insulin resistance. Here are a few factors to think about when feeding a horse at risk of laminitis.
Low sugar, low starch
There are a few reasons why feeds low in both sugar and starch are preferred. A horse’s digestive system is designed for high-fibre and forage-based diets, which are consumed throughout the day – a term known as trickle-feeding. The energy density of cereal based feeds means they are given as meals which the horse is less able to manage efficiently. This can result in insulin dysregulation over time which predisposes an animal to laminitis, especially if they are overweight.
. Reducing levels of sugar and starch means your horse’s insulin response will be less exaggerated helping to maintain metabolic balance, whilst also reducing calorie intake for overall weight management and loss where necessary.
You must also consider the sugar content of forage when feeding a horse at risk of laminitis. Forage should make up the majority of a horse’s diet and for those that hold weight easily, using a lower nutritional value forage such as mature grass hay, is ideal. It is also possible to soak hay to reduce overall sugar content. Soaking varies in terms of the amount of sugar it removes according to duration, temperature and water to hay ratios. Durham et al., (2019) s found that soaking hay for 7- 16 hours reduced WSC (water soluble carbs) by 24 – 43%. However, during the spring/summer months and in warmer weather, soak times are recommended to a max of 2 hours due to the increased risk of microbial growth.
These types of feed are often used to increase both nutrient and calorie intake, so are often not needed for those prone to laminitis.
However, if your horse’s diet consists mainly of forage – soaked or low sugar – you will need to add a source of vitamins and minerals to ensure they’re receiving the nutrients they need without additional calories. Balancers tend to be low in both sugar and starch and are a great option for balancing the ration
In spring, levels of sugar in pasture increase and levels can peak at other times if weather conditions are right. Pasture can result in weight gain as well as increasing sugar intake and so access to grass often needs to be restricted. This can be achieved by using a grazing muzzle, strip grazing or bringing the horse into the stable and off grass completely. Although these can mean more work, they are certainly preferable to dealing with a horse with laminitis