Laminitis and equine weight-loss

  • The facts about laminitis

    Laminitis is essentially inflammation causing damage to the laminae of the hoof wall

    • Laminitics suffer extreme pain and lameness. Their athletic ability is usually compromised

    • It is a global problem. There are 30,000 cases each year in the UK, while 220,500 horses in America were diagnosed with the disease last year

    • By the time clinical signs of laminitis appear, damage has already occurred

    • Recognising and understanding the changes resulting in increased susceptibility to laminitis would help vets prevent the disease

    • Affected animals tend to have a characteristic stance, leaning back on their heels to take the weight off the painful toe region. There will also be bounding pulses that can be felt at the back of the fetlocks, heat in the hoof wall and extreme lameness

    Helping your horse to lose weight

    While fat ponies enjoying the spring grass are “typical” laminitis sufferers, any horse that is carrying too much weight or being fed an inappropriate diet can suffer a sudden attack of laminitis. Any weight-loss programme needs to be targeted to the individual animal, but bear in mind the following points:

    • Understand exactly what and how much is currently being fed. A laminitic horse should be fed between 1.5-2% of its body weight per day in poor quality hay. Scoops of feed and hay nets will need to be weighed.

    • Hay should have a carbohydrate (energy) value of less than 10% — many are much higher. If possible, you should get your hay analysed by a nutritionist. Soaking it helps reduce protein levels

    • Reduce access to grass and restrict turnout to the afternoons when the fructan content in the grass is lower. Minimal amounts of concentrates should be fed and only if absolutely necessary

    • Do not attempt to make rapid changes to body weight. The maximum loss should be 1% of a horse’s body weight per week

    • It is important to maintain vitamin and mineral levels

    • Avoid leaving horses for long periods of time without fibre as this can increase the risk of gastric ulcers and behavioural problems

    • If there is no change after 12 weeks, rethink your strategy

    For the full article on laminitis, including the latest research, see Horse & Hound (1 April, ’10)

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