As a horse owner, keeping your horse happy and healthy is essential, so knowing how to avoid various conditions is crucial. One of the most prevalent conditions that can affect your horse’s health and well-being is laminitis, which involves inflammation and damage in the hoof that can be permanently debilitating. There are a few reasons that laminitis may occur, including obesity and hormonal imbalances, but there are ways you can reduce the risk of this disease taking hold, which include a range of dietary adjustments. We’ll take a closer look at these below. 

What is laminitis? 

Laminitis is a condition that could affect your horse, so knowing more about the signs and symptoms to look out for is essential. This condition affects the laminae within your horse’s hooves – the soft tissue that connects the wall of the hoof to the pedal bone. Laminitis can cause the tissue to become inflamed and detached, causing your horse extreme discomfort when standing, or walking. 

Common triggers include obesity and excessive weight gain, underlying hormonal disorders, or trauma to the hoof. Some signs to look out for if you suspect your horse is suffering from laminitis include a change in gait when walking, shifting weight from one foot to the other to relieve pressure, an increased digital pulse within the hoof, and rocking back onto their heels to alleviate pressure on the front of the feed If you think your horse is suffering from this condition, seek help from your vet and they will help you to treat and manage the issue. 

Limiting carbohydrates

When adapting feeding strategies for a horse prone to laminitis, one of the first steps to take is to ensure you’re limiting their intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates such as simple and storage sugar in grass and starch from cereal-based concentrate feeds all contribute to a disruption in the endocrine (hormonal) function. High carbohydrate diets can also increase weight gain which also has an impact on endocrine function. High levels of circulating insulin have been shown to cause laminitis in their own right and so the emphasis is on trying to reduce your horse’s insulinemic response which is managed by reducing sugar intake. There are various ways to do this:

Grazing strategies 

Limiting your horse’s access to lush green pasture is essential when feeding a horse prone to laminitis, so developing a grazing strategy is a good way to manage their diet. It may be necessary to bring them off grass completely if they are very susceptible to laminitis or are very overweight. Some turn out may be possible if you use strategies like grazing muzzles or access to a very restricted area of pasture to limit how much they can consume. This does mean your horse can still benefit from being turned out which allows them to move more and potentially interact with other horses.  You should also try to ensure that your horse is turned out at times when the sugar content in the grass is reduced, like early in the morning and late at night. 

Soaking hay

Soaking hay can help to reduce its sugar content.  The optimum hay soaking time is influenced by many variables including ambient temperature and ratio of water to hay. Generally speaking, the warmer the water (up to around 16C) and the more water used, the more the sugar will be reduced. During warm periods, soak for no more than 2 hours due to the increased risk of excessive microbial growth. 

A Balanced Diet

Good doers and those prone to laminitis are usually kept on low nutritional value forages and reduced access to fresh pasture to manage their weight. This means they also miss out on essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals which are typically abundant in forage. It is therefore important to supply a source of these nutrients to help keep your horse in good condition.  A balancer or supplement is ideal for good-doers and those prone to laminitis. 

Regular exercise

Generally encouraging a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and weight management strategies can be beneficial when feeding a horse prone to laminitis. Exercising your horse can also improve insulin sensitivity which could be beneficial for a horse prone to this condition.

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