Laminitis is an Emergency
Laminitis is a serious and debilitating disease and can ultimately result in the death of the horse. If you suspect that your horse has laminitis you should contact your vet immediately as the longer the problem goes untreated, the greater the risk of irreparable damage occurring.
What is Laminitis?
The term laminitis means quite simply 'inflammation of the laminae'. The laminae bond the hoof wall to the pedal bone, which supports the entire weight of the horse or pony. Severe cases of laminitis can result in the pedal bone rotating downward (see photograph). These changes can occur within hours, to varying degrees, and are irreversible. Laminitis can affect all four feet but is seen more frequently in just the front feet.
Nutrition related causes of laminitis are the most common but there are others including excessive concussion, stress, infections in mares that retain placenta after foaling and administration of steroids. Older horses and ponies with Cushing's Syndrome are more susceptible to laminitis and so need to be managed as if they are prone to laminitis even if they haven't had it previously.
Photograph provided by "The Laminitis Trust"
Symptoms of Laminitis
- Extreme pain, pounding digital pulse and warm feet.
- Discomfort, shifting weight from one foot to another.
- Slow and stilted walk and trot, difficulty in turning, especially on hard ground
- Classic laminitis stance - rocking back onto hind limbs taking weight off the front feet.
Horses and ponies with laminitis are usually reluctant to move and in more severe cases may even lie down. With an extreme case, the pedal bone can sink or rotate through the sole within 24 hours, this normally requires the animal to be euthanased
In less severe cases the laminae will heal, and the bond between the hoof wall and the pedal bone will mend. The prognosis for your horse and pony will largely be determined by how quickly you act. It is also vital that your vet and farrier work closely together and that they are experienced in dealing with laminitis.
Frequent and careful attention by a farrier is essential for all horses and ponies that suffer from laminitis.
What Goes on Nutritionally?
Research has shown that in contrast to what was believed for many years, laminitis is NOT caused by feeding excess protein. We now know that the main culprits are likely to be water soluble carbohydrates (sugars) and starch, the main sources of which are grass and cereals.
It's important to remember that horses and ponies evolved to eat a high fibre diet, on a little and often basis. Research suggests that horses and ponies that are overfed water-soluble carbohydrates or starch, through an excessive intake of cereals or grass sugars, develop an increase in hind gut acidity.
The sugar and starch in feed is normally digested and absorbed in the small intestine within about 90 minutes. If a large cereal-based concentrate meal is fed or the horse or pony consumes large amounts of grass, the starch or sugar can reach the hindgut. Once in the hindgut, bacteria ferment the sugar or starch rapidly creating a very acidic environment (acidosis). The bacteria that normally digest fibre cannot survive these acidic conditions and start to die. As they die, their cell walls rupture and endotoxins (poisons) are released. The acid environment can damage the gut wall making it more leaky which allows the toxins to be absorbed from the gut into the blood stream. This initiates a chain of events that ultimately result in a disruption of blood supply to the laminae.
Over time it has become apparent that other factors contribute to the onset of laminitis in some cases. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a term used to describe individuals that are overweight, insulin resistant and recurrent laminitics. It is thought that the consequences of insulin resistance such as systemic inflammation and elevated blood insulin levels predispose the horse or pony to laminitis. The first step is therefore to promote weight loss and try to improve insulin sensitivity to reduce the risk of laminitis.
MY HORSE HAS LAMINITIS - WHAT NOW?
- As soon as laminitis is suspected, veterinary attention must be sought immediately and the suspected cause removed.
- Stable the horse or pony on soft, deep bedding such as shavings.
- Re-assess your horse or pony's diet ensuring that you feed one with a high fibre, low starch and low sugar content.
Alfalfa is naturally low in starch and sugar as the graph below illustrates. It therefore makes the ideal basis to rations for horses and ponies prone to laminitis.
FEEDING TO HELP REDUCE THE RISK OF LAMINITIS
- Maintain your horse and pony at a healthy bodyweight
- If horses and ponies are fed energy or 'calories' in excess of their daily requirements they will put on weight.
- Restrict access to grazing, particularly in the spring and autumn, and remember to remove droppings frequently to avoid a large worm burden. Limit grass intake by using a grazing muzzle - research suggests it can reduce intake by 75%.
- Feed highly digestible fibre feeds that are low in sugar or starch e.g. alfalfa. Try to feed little and often to mimic the horse and pony's natural grazing behaviour and to help ensure that any sugars and starch are fully digested in the small intestine.
- Feed a live yeast culture such as Dengie Digestive Health to improve fibre digestion and to help to increase the number of cellulytic (friendly) bacteria in the hindgut.
- If more energy is required for additional work or weight gain, use feeds that are high in fibre and oil with a low starch content such as Alfa-A Molasses Free. Soya oil, for example, is a “safer” source of energy than cereals as it contains no sugar or starch.
THE LAMINITIS TRUST
The Laminitis Trust was formed in 1998 following consultation with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. The Trust has awarded certain feeds "Laminitis Trust seal of approval". Dengie are pleased to announce that Hi-Fi Lite, Alfa-A Lite, Healthy Hooves, Alfa-A Molasses Free, Hi-Fi Molasses Free and Alfa-Beet have all been awarded this approval, illustrating their suitability for the healthy maintenance of horses and ponies prone to laminitis. Dengie Horse Feeds is the only manufacturer with 6 products approved by The Laminitis Trust.
Dengie offers a full technical support service including ration evaluation, nutritional advice and individual yard consultations by their equine nutritionists. Please contact us on 0845 345 5115 if you would like help with your horse's diet.
|Content of water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC),
starch and fructan in different feeds (g/kg DM)
|Spring grass||40-300||10||Up to 400|
|Dengie Alfalfa Pellets||70||20||23|
|Alfa-A Molasses Free||45||20||55|