Why is laminitis an issue in autumn?
There are two main times during the year when grass can be a factor in causing a laminitic response; spring and autumn. There is a lot of published information around springtime grass with extremely high levels of sugars and fructans, whereas the factors at play in autumn grass are less obvious.
During the autumn, it is not just the grass involved, it is also related to the physiology of the horse.
During the year the levels of protein, sugars, oil and fibre in the grass vary. In spring, sugar content rises and declines over summer as it is converted into fibre and supports plant growth. Over the same period, protein levels rise to support seed development. Once grass has seeded, protein and sugar levels drop, but following a period where fibre structure matures, levels start rising again. Although sugars do not reach the levels found in spring (light intensity and day length is declining) they can have an impact. More relevantly, protein can exceed spring levels and it is the combination of the two nutrients that can affect the laminitic horse or pony.
In addition to the conditions in the grass, the horse has evolved over thousands of years to start preparing for winter by laying down fat in the autumn months. Living in harsh environments on the plains, a horse would naturally emerge rather lean from a hard winter of near starvation conditions. As such, their hormones have adapted to utilise rich nutrients in spring grass to rebuild muscle and condition. Whereas in contrast, the natural fat deposition during autumn releases a hormone which affects the way carbohydrates are metabolised, which is thought to be connected to insulin resistance, so may impact laminitis.
With domesticated animals, we have removed the dangers of winter, but this has potential repercussions; in spring, we are loading up an animal which is already in good condition, and in autumn laying down fat for a harsh winter that does not often arrive.
What to feed during autumn?
As explained, there are differences between the conditions in grass and the horse that gives rise spring and autumn laminitis, but both centre around the dysfunction caused by too high a protein and sugar intake. Feeds that have reasonable protein and low sugar/starch levels are a good starting point. When considering hard feed, it’s important to incorporate plenty of fibre to keep the digestive system functioning and healthy, whilst avoiding too much sugar and starch to keep lactic acid levels under control. Avoiding excess weight gain is also important for Laminitics, so staying away from cereals and mixes is recommended. When feeding a laminitic, small feeds, little and often is good practice alongside forage.
Speedi-Beet from British Horse Feeds soaks in under ten minutes to expand to five times its volume and holds five times its weight in water. It is particularly beneficial to laminitic horses and ponies due to its low sugar levels (5%) and zero starch content. Feeding Speedi-Beet optimises fibre utilisation which further reduces reliance on sugar, starch and fat for energy, allowing a good energy supply, at reasonable protein levels and so avoiding risk factors for laminitis.
In addition, British Horse Feeds’s Fibre-Beet combines Speedi-Beet with Alfalfa and contains only 5% sugar and 3% starch with a high level of easily digested soluble fibre for slow energy release.
In terms of forage, the best option for a laminitic horse or pony, is soaked hay up to around 2% of the horse’s body weight. It is important to keep the hindgut moving so we don’t want to limit the forage too much. However, Fibre-Beet is ideal if you are short of good quality forage, or time out in the field is restricted as can often happen in the autumn when it might be wetter than normal with shorter daylight hours. It can be fed at up to 1kg/100kg body weight of horse; this means that for a 500kg horse you can feed up to 5kg of Fibre-Beet (dry weight) each day. As a short-term solution if you have no forage, you can substitute all of your horse’s forage with Fibre-Beet.
You can find out more about fibre feeding for horses including feeding guidelines, ingredients, FAQ’s and more reviews on our website www.britishhorsefeeds.com or speak to one of our dedicated experts on 01765 680300