Lean horses could be as much at risk of laminitis as fat ones, researchers warn

  • Lean horses could be at as much risk of laminitis as their fat counterparts, research has found.

    The study, led by Marine Barnabé in association with Spillers, looked at adiponectin, a hormone coming from fat deposits, and its relationship with obesity.

    Adiponectin is thought to improve sensitivity to insulin, and previous work by the brand and its associates has shown that low blood concentrations of adiponectin reflect an increased risk of laminitis. Lower levels of it have been found in obese horses, but this study found this can also be the case in lean native ponies.

    “This work supports earlier research, conducted in collaboration with the Spillers brand, which showed that severe insulin dysregulation can also be found in lean ponies,” a spokesman for Spillers said. “Collectively, the work confirms that lean ponies can also be at higher risk of metabolic disease and associated laminitis.”

    For the study, adiponectin levels were compared in 734 native ponies of different body condition scores, breeds and body shapes, with and without history of laminitis.

    “This study together with our previous work has provided us with the important take-home message that you cannot presume that just because your horse or pony is lean or of ideal bodyweight it is automatically at reduced risk,” said Sarah Nelson, product manager at Mars Horsecare, which owns Spillers.

    “They may still have insulin dysregulation and/or low adiponectin concentrations and so be at an increased risk of laminitis. If you are concerned it is important to speak to your vet and have your horse or pony tested. It’s also advisable to contact your nutrition advisor to ensure you provide the best diet to manage your individual.”

    The study also found a significant difference in adiponectin levels between ponies of different body shapes. The middle-heavy shape was associated with higher levels, suggesting that this fat accumulation pattern may be less detrimental in ponies, although the team said more work is needed to investigate these findings.

    “Understanding the modifiable factors associated with total adiponectin concentrations may help to identify targets for preventive or therapeutic intervention, with the goal of reducing the development of endocrinopathic laminitis in at-risk horses and ponies,” said Ms Barnabé.

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