Laminitis is the second highest killer of horses. Learn how to protect your stable from developing the disease.
Approximately three to four percent of horses in the United States develop laminitis annually. Collectively, 7.5 percent of horse owners, breeders and racers have at least one equine contract the hoof disease each year.
Laminitis is a painful condition characterized by swelling of the laminar tissues joined in a horse’s hoof. This disease is the preliminary stage of founder, a chronic hoof state in which the bone has rotated.
But, the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reports that roughly one half of documented laminitis cases could easily be prevented with a diet change. Oftentimes, obese horses are the ones with laminitis. Proper nutrition can keep your horse’s weight in check.
Overfeeding a horse the traditional grain diet, which is high in carbohydrates, is the leading cause of laminitis. The excess sugar and starch cannot be digested normally, causing hindgut bacteria to break down the molecules. These bacteria release toxins as they die, which accumulate in the circulatory system, eventually disrupting blood flow to the hooves. Laminitis is a frequent end result.
A common misconception horse owners have for reversing or preventing laminitis is to underfeed–i.e. starve–the horse. Under no circumstances is this beneficial for the animal. A horse needs to be fed an amount that fits its lifestyle and workload, meaning the amount varies among individuals.
Instead of feeding a lot all at once, horses should be fed a little bit at a time, but more frequently. Avoiding food products with added sugar like molasses or dry cereal high in starch can limit the carbohydrate intake.
Taking caution not to overfeed, it may be necessary to limit the amount of pasture grazing a horse can do in addition to lessening the amount of dry hay made available. Restricting grazing on frozen or fertilized pastures also keeps nutrition in check. Sugar levels in grass are known to be lowest at nighttime, meaning an early morning start could benefit your horse.
If you are changing your horse’s diet, do so gradually. Similar to overfeeding, quick dietary alterations can lead to hindgut bacteria and toxicity overload.
Obesity in general adds stress to a horse’s feet, as does continual, heavy exposure to hard surfaces. Pounding from jumping and running or trotting on paved roads puts unnecessary pressure on the feet that can have catastrophic consequences.
You can monitor your horse for signs of laminitis by taking him on daily walks and observing the gait. Look for signs of fat deposits, such as above the tail or below the eyes, which might suggest the diet needs to be altered. Checking the horse’s digital pulses for normal rhythms and temperature can tip you off if your equine is headed down the laminar road.
Hormone imbalances, such as Cushing’s disease, can also lead to laminitis, so keep that in mind. You might be doing everything in your power to make sure your pet doesn’t develop a disease, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. If your horse does contract laminitis, early diagnosis is key to a proper and full recovery. For this reason, constant monitoring is vital to your horse’s overall well-being.