Weight gain more than doubles the risk of equines’ developing laminitis – as do some techniques aimed at reducing the risk.
The study, carried out by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and Rossdales Equine Hospital and funded by World Horse Welfare, found the condition developed “significantly” more often if horses gained weight, compared to when they lost or maintained it.
Owners recorded estimates of their horses’ or ponies’ weight at regular intervals over 29 months, more than half of them using a custom-built online tracking tool.(Link)
“Worryingly, weight gain was often occurring unintentionally, even when owners were aiming for weight maintenance or loss,” an AHT spokesman said.
“This emphasises the importance of consistent weight and body condition recording, so undesirable weight gain can be recognised before it has a negative impact on health.
“Owners need to review their animals’ current diet, exercise and health management routines as soon as undesirable weight gain is detected and take action.”
The study also identified groups at particularly high risk of developing laminitis.
Owners of native ponies, full- or part-bred, those with a history of laminitis and who suffer lameness or soreness after routine hoof care should be “particularly vigilant”.
Equine shod or trimmed at intervals of longer than eight weeks were also at high risk of future episodes, as were those who showed a “lengthy return to soundness” after their most recent episodes.
“Earlier recognition of laminitis, along with adequate and prompt veterinary attention, farriery support and diagnostic testing of underlying metabolic disorders should give animals the best chance of recovery and a potential to reduce the risk of future episodes,” the spokesman said.
Other factors associated with laminitis development include features of grass management. Equines who wore grazing muzzles for only part of the time they were at grass were more likely to develop the condition than those who had it on all the time or not at all. Similarly, those who were only turned out to graze for a brief period in the mornings were at more risk than those who went out all day, overnight or not at all.
It is thought these findings maybe owing to the fact the horses gorged on grass when they had limited access to it, but they need to be investigated more fully.
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“These findings suggest that some grazing management interventions were not optimal at preventing laminitis,” the spokesman said.
The study involved more than 1,000 horses and ponies.
Dr Dee Pollard of the AHT said: “This is one of the largest laminitis studies where we collected regular information from the same group of owners in real time. We assessed the relationship between laminitis and many potential management and health factors and identified those more likely to be present before a laminitis episode was reported.
“We now have good evidence to develop laminitis prevention guidelines, and a number of different avenues to explore in the future. We cannot emphasise enough how important systematic and regular weight and body condition monitoring are. It’s very easy to miss weight gain when you are just relying on your eyes and you see your horse or pony every day. You need to get hands on, feel for the fat deposits and take measurements; remember the figures don’t lie!”
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