Feeding to avoid laminitis

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  • Laminitis can be triggered by a variety of factors but research has shown that the prime cause of this killer disease is feeding too much soluble carbohydrate.

    Excessive feeding of grass and cereals accounts for 80% of cases and is largely avoidable.

    According to Robert Eustace FRCVC, director of The Laminitis Clinic, laminitis cases caused by other factors, such as systemic disease, stress or trauma to the feet due to work on overly hard surfaces, are much less common.

    Weight watching

    Many owners need to change their view of what a good weight is for their horses. Some owners are misguided in thinking that a fat animal looks well.

    When your horse is at a good weight, you should be able to feel his ribs under the skin without having to poke through layers of fat. There should be no other areas of visible fat, such as a wobbly crest.

    The suffering that is caused by the disease should never be underestimated. Laminitis is no respecter of breed, type or value.

    Many owners believe ponies are the main victims, but Robert sees more horses than ponies in his clinic. One common link is that, in most cases, the animal has been the subject of inappropriate feeding.

    Grazing dangers

    Care must be taken with grazing at specific times of the year. Spring is the main danger period, as new grass contains high concentrations of carbohydrate, but grass can also be rich in the autumn.

    Experts agree that soluble carbohydrate, such as starch or fructans (the carbohydrates found in grass), is the main culprit and that it is the total weight of carbohydrate which puts animals at risk of laminitis.

    Evidence suggests that fructans may be particularly dangerous as it takes a smaller weight of fructans than starch to cause laminitis.

    Top tips

    • Use temporary electric fencing to divide large fields into “weight-watchers” paddocks or consider strip grazing to reduce grass intake and collect droppings daily to avoid worm infestation.
    • Alternatively, buy a grazing muzzle with slots cut in the bottom which will allow your horse to roam freely without eating too much grass. Ensure the muzzle fits correctly and check it daily
    • Feed according to your horse’s workload
    • Buy a weigh-tape and make a note of his weight when he is in good condition. Use the tape regularly to check his weight isn’t creeping up
    • Feed little and often and aim for a high-fibre diet

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    Contrary to myth, laminitis occurs all year-round and not just in the spring. It is an emergency that needs prompt

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