How to Recognise Laminitis in Your Horse

Guest post by Spillers Feeds: Laminitis can have devastating and sometimes fatal outcomes and although no horse or pony is immune to the...

Guest post by Spillers Feeds:

Laminitis can have devastating and sometimes fatal outcomes and although no horse or pony is immune to the condition, there are particular breeds, health conditions and lifestyles that make some animals more vulnerable.

Here’s a brief guide to the horses and ponies that are at risk, the signs to look for, and the actions you can take to keep them in good health.

What are the risk factors of Nutritionally Induced Laminitis?

Genetics: Ponies and native breeds are more prone to the condition.

Weight: Animals that are overweight, obese, have a body condition score (BCS) above 7, and those who have regional fat deposits including a cresty neck.

Health: Those who have Cushing’s Syndrome (PPID), Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), insulin irregularities or a history of laminitis. If you don’t know whether your horse has a health condition, ask your vet for more infomation.

Diet: Excessive intakes of starch, sugar and fructans, often consumed through grazing.

If your horse or pony falls into any of these risk categories, you’ll need to pay close attention to their foot and hoof health so that you can spot the signs of laminitis quickly and take steps to intervene to protect their health and life quality.

What Are the Signs of Laminitis?

● Strong Digital Pulse: In a healthy horse, the digital pulse should be faint and difficult to find so a strong, throbbing pulse may indicate a problem. Check daily at the same times if possible to familiarize yourself with what is normal for your horse.

● Excessive Heat: When checking the digital pulse, also assess the temperature of your horse’s feet and familiarize yourself with your animal’s norms. Temperatures do fluctuate but heat that develops suddenly or is sustained for a few hours can be an indicator of laminitis.

● Laminitic Stance: Although laminitis can affect any foot, it’s more common in the front feet so a horse or pony suffering from the condition may lean their weight back onto their hind feet to try and alleviate any pain or discomfort.

● Shifting and Lifting: Watch for the excessive lifting of just one hoof or constant shifting of weight from one foot to another.

● Walking: Laminitic feet will quickly affect a horse’s walk and any changes may be easier to spot when your horse is on a hard surface or walking in a circle. Look for a shortened stride, ‘pottery’ steps (where they place the heel down before the toe), a general reluctance to walk and increased amounts of time spent lying down.

What can we do?

Laminitis cannot always be prevented but with proper care and a carefully managed diet, it’s possible to reduce the risks and manage the onset of any symptoms. Here are some tips:

● Conduct fortnightly BCS assessments to keep an eye on any fat gains or losses and aim to maintain your horse’s score at 4.5 to 5 (on a scale of 1 to 9).

● Ensure your horse or pony gets adequate exercise to keep their weight in check but also to maintain their strength and mobility and stave off boredom which can lead to excess eating. However, it’s important to avoid overworking or walking horses prone to laminitis on hard or uneven surfaces. If you need advice on an exercise regime suitable for your animal, ask your vet for advice.

● If weight loss is required, provide small meals that amount to 1.5 to 2% of your horse’s bodyweight per day, but make any dietary changes slowly to avoid digestive upsets.

● Be wary of lush grass, particularly in spring when it’s more likely to be high in sugar and fruntans. Limit grazing time or use a muzzle and supplement pasture with a compound that is high in fibre and low in starch and sugar.

● Soaking hay in warm water can help to remove excess sugars but it can also diminish nutrient levels. To ensure your horse gets a nutritionally balanced diet, incorporate balancers into their feed. These are particularly useful for ‘good-doers’ as they will get the vitamins, minerals and proteins they need without additional calories.

Do you have a horse or pony at risk for laminitis? Share your tips!



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