Laminitis in Horses and Ponies

Why too much fresh grass might be dangerous for your horse or pony.


Valerie De Clerck, Doctor of veterinary medicine




brown horse grazing in fresh grass

FRUCTANS IN THE GRASS ARE ONE OF THE CULPRITS...


Laminitis is a painful condition of the feet in horses and ponies. It is frequently seen in spring and summer as it is often associated with high amounts of sugar and fructans in lush pasture and can be further complicated by obesity and insulin resistance.

WHAT IS LAMINITIS in horses and ponies?


Laminitis is a disease of the laminae in the feet of the horse and results from the disruption of blood flow to the feet. Because of the poor blood circulation, the laminae structures that secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall are inflamed and start to loosen. 


In severe cases, the bone and the hoof wall can separate completely and the coffin bone sinks and can even penetrate the sole. 


drawing of the loosening of the laminae in the feet of a horse with laminitis

Figure 2: on the left: loosening of the laminae that secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall;

on the right: the coffin bone sinks and penetrates the sole.

Drawing of a horse with a typical stance of laminitis

Figure 1: typical stance of a horse with laminitis, with the forelimbs placed abnormally far forward to release pressure on the fore feet. The weight is shifted towards the hindlimbs.


WHAT IS causing LAMINITIS in horses and ponies?


Laminitis usually occurs as a result of 4 clinical entities.


1. Sepsis or endotoxemia


Disease associated with sepsis or endotoxemia. Endotoxemia is the change in the permeability of the intestinal wall, which allows the passage of toxins from intestinal bacteria into the bloodstream. This is often a complication in horses or ponies with severe colic.


2. Excessive weight


Excessive weight placed on one limb due to injury to the opposite limb.


3. Cushing


Cushing's disease, often in older horses and ponies.


4. Dysfunction of the sugar metabolism 


Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), which also includes pasture-associated laminitis, is caused by sudden access to excessive amounts of fresh grass with high amounts of sugars (fructans). Due to a dysfunction of the sugar metabolisme in horses with EMS, the horses can not properly metabolise the sugars, which increases the risk of laminitis. 


EMS is often seen in horses with overweight and obesitas.


Digestive upsets due to grain overload or a sudden change in the diet are also risk factors for laminitis in horses and ponies. 


Check the amount of fructans in the grass here and make sure to limit the time in the pasture when the fructan-index is high!

how can i recognise if my horse or pony has laminitis?


Clinical signs of laminitis usually start 24 to 72 hours following the onset of a septic disease process or after excessive lush pasture consumption. 


Laminitis is most often seen in the front feet, but it can affect all feet. 


The most common sign of acute laminitis is lameness and a very hesitant gait. The horse or pony will often stand with the front feet stretched out to alleviate pressure on the toes (see figure 1).The temperature of the affected hooves will increase, and an increased digital pulse is palpable.


How can I feel the digital pulse of my horse or pony?


You can feel a horse's pulse on both his front and hind legs at the height of the fetlock or just below.


Place your three fingers on the inside of the fetlock and try to feel a large vein. Just next to it you should be able to feel the the blood pressure (digital pulse) of your horse or pony in the artery. Do not press too hard and do not use your thumb.

horse leg fingers measuring the digital pulse
white pony in box

WHAT TO DO WHEN MY HORSE OR PONY HAS LAMINITIS?


1. Call your veterinarian!


Laminitis is a medical emergency and very painful disease for your horse or pony so the first goal in the treatment is managing the pain and stabilising the feet for at least 3 weeks. 


2. Put your horse or pony in the box


Box rest is important to limit the movement of your horse or pony and provide foot support by placing him on a soft surface, such as sand or shavings. Make sure your horse or pony does not eat the sand!


3. Cool the feet of your horse or pony with ice


Acute laminitis is often associated with inflammation of the laminae, the use of ice to cool the feet may be beneficial to reduce the inflammation and limit the loosening of the laminae.


4. Change the diet of your horse or pony


Dietary changes are important in horses or ponies with laminitis. Limit sugar intake by preventing grass and grain intake. Provide enough hay for your horse or pony.


5. Hoof Care


Hoof care is very important in horses and ponies with laminitis. The most important goal of the hoof care is to redistribute the force of weight-baring away from the hoof wall to the sole. This can be done by placing frogs or bars underneath the foot of the horse or pony and by placing your horse or pony on a soft surface. Sometimes it also helps to remove the shoes of the horse or pony. Consult your veterinarian and farrier to decide what the best solution is for your horse or pony.

HOW CAN I protect my horse or pony from developing LAMINITIS?


1. Pay extra attention to horses who have had laminitis in the past


Horses and ponies who have had laminitis in the past remain more susceptible to laminitis.


2. Analyse the diet of your horse


It is important to analyse the diet of your horse or pony. You can contact Ghent University for a detailed analysis or you can use the following website to estimate the concentration of different nutrients in hay and grain diets or pasture diets.


3. Keep your horse in a good body condition


Aim to keep your horse or pony at a moderate Body Condition Score and prevent your horse or pony from becoming too fat, as obesity is a risk factor for laminitis.


4. Prevent your horse or pony from eating too much fresh grass


Check the fructaan-index, before leaving your horse or pony in the pasture. Be very careful when the fructaan-index is high


Limit the time in the pasture and use a grazing muzzle to limit your horse's grass intake.


5. Support your horse with HOOV CARE supplements


HOOV CARE is a combination of 6 plants with a beneficial effect on the blood circulation in the feet of the horse, detoxification, regulation of the sugar metabolism, an anti-inflammatory effect and strengthening of the hooves. 

drawing of a horse with a muzzle

SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES


  1. Ivey JL. Pasture-associated laminitis.
  2. Baxter GM. Lameness in Horses. Sixth edit. Wiley-Blackwell; 2011.
  3. Bowe A. MSM and Healthy Hooves. Horses and people.:53-59.

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