Feeding For laminitis
Laminitis affects 1 in 10 horses every year, according to the British Horse Society (BHS). Although some horses and ponies are more susceptible to the condition, any equine can succumb to it. As a result of this, it is really important that horse owners know how to spot signs of laminitis and how to manage it. Prevention is better than cure; ensuring that horses are not gaining excess weight can halve the risk of laminitis developing. However, up to 90% of laminitis cases can be linked to an underlying hormonal disorder, so managing the condition correctly is essential.
How can you recognise laminitis in your horse?
Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between acute and chronic laminitis. Symptoms of acute laminitis can be severe and come on quickly. In contrast, a horse with chronic laminitis is likely to show ongoing or relapsing symptoms.
Acute laminitis symptoms
- Reluctance to move or turn
- Visibly lame with shortened or stiffened strides
- Change in behaviour and temperament
- Symptoms can be similar to colic
- Laminitic stance – leaning backwards onto heels to relieve pressure at the front
Chronic laminitis symptoms
- Growth rings on hoof (wider at the heel)
- Abnormalities of the angle and/or shape of the hoof
- Large, cresty neck
- Heat in the hoof wall
Management of a horse with laminitis
There are many factors at play when managing a horse with laminitis, and it is important to consult a vet at every stage of the process as they will be able to advise on the management of each horse on a case-by-case basis. Management of laminitis will have a direct impact on the horse’s quality of life and future health, so it is critical to get it right.
Condition scoring – knowing your horse’s weight is one thing, but body condition scoring is a very useful and important tool to do consistently throughout the year. There is lots of guidance online about how to condition score your horse correctly. One reason to use body condition scoring alongside weighing your horse, is so that you can distinguish between fat and muscle. You can also get more hands-on with checking your horse for any abnormalities or injuries.
Regular, appropriate exercise – Although laminitis is commonly associated with the feet; poor circulation, build-up of toxins and oxygen starvation contribute to the cause of laminitis. Exercise therefore supports the management of the condition as it improves circulation, disperses and flushes out toxins as well as increasing delivery of oxygen through the body.
Feeding a laminitic equine
As we enjoy the longer days and fresh grass growth that spring brings with it, most horse owners are rejoicing in the resulting drier fields, less mud and more time to enjoy their horse or pony. This new, lush grass is often talked about in relation to laminitis, however often the specifics of why it can be dangerous, are overlooked. It is actually poor grass in pasture that is the biggest risk. Stressed or overgrazed pasture, particularly after a heavy frost, produces fructan, a type of sugar. The grass ultimately stores this sugar as its energy in the form of carbohydrate and can lead to laminitis if ingested. There are multiple other causes for laminitis, other than grass to be aware of and it is important to consider your own horse’s situation and health.
Some horse owners can have a tendency to overfeed their horses. Although they are trying to do the right thing, this can have a detrimental impact on their horse’s health. Not only can excess weight have a negative effect on the animal’s limbs, it can also put pressure on vital organs. A horse with laminitis should certainly not have food restricted completely as that can cause secondary issues, but the horse needs to be fed an appropriate diet.
What can you feed a horse with laminitis?
In terms of forage, the best option for a laminitic equine 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. When it comes to hard feed, it’s important to keep the digestive system functioning and healthy with plenty of fibre, whilst trying to keep lactic acid levels under control by not feeding too much sugar and starch. Avoiding excess weight gain is also important for laminitics, so avoiding cereals and mixes is recommended. When feeding a laminitic, small feeds, little and often is good practice alongside forage.
High fibre feeds that utilise ingredients like beet pulp, oat fibre and alfalfa will help the microflora to be maintained in the hind gut and provide a functioning barrier to the toxins that can contribute to laminitis. Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet are super fibre beet pulp feeds that are high in fibre and low in sugar and starch (5% sugar, 0% starch). Fibre-Beet is a conditioning feed with a carefully formulated combination of Speedi-Beet and alfalfa supplemented with biotin, sodium and calcium. Made using only the best quality British Beet Pulp, Speedi-Beet is subjected to our patented cooking process to produce a unique feed which is unlike any other HorseBeet. A highly nutritious, quick soaking beet pulp feed, with no added molasses, Speedi-Beet is also 95% sugar free.
Always consult your vet for any veterinary advice or get in touch with British Horse Feeds’ qualified nutritionists on 01765 680300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.britishhorsefeeds.com.
Pollard, D., et al (2018) Incidence and clinical signs of owner-reported equine laminitis in a cohort of horses and ponies in Great Britain. Equine Veterinary Journal. 51(5), pp. 587-594
Karikoski NP, et al (2011). The prevalence of endocrinopathic laminitis among horses presented for laminitis at a first-opinion/referral equine hospital Domestic Animal Endocrinology. 41(3), p. 111-7.
If you would like further feeding advice, please contact our friendly and knowledgeable team on 01765 680300.