5 Steps you can take to reduce your horse’s risk of suffering from laminitis

5 Steps you can take to reduce 

your horse’s risk of suffering from laminitis  

Spring time certainly sees a huge rise in the number of laminitis cases, perhaps you are concerned about laminitis at the moment? If your horse suffers with laminitis you are probably on ‘lami- alert’ all year round, it can be a very difficult condition to manage. Unfortunately so many owners think of laminitis as a disease that occurs just in the Springtime, and only affects a fat ‘Thelwell’ type pony. Sadly this is not the case, laminitis is now thought to be the biggest cause of lameness, can affect horses all year round and an increasing number of horses are euthanized each year due to the unbearable pain of this condition.So with this in mind here are five steps you can take to reduce your horse’s risk of suffering from laminitis... whether you have a round native or a big Warmblood.

1. Open your eyes to your horse’s true weight

Establishing your horse’s weight using a weighbridge is a very useful exercise, partly to help you create a weight loss plan but also to give you an accurate weight for medication and worming dosing. Assessing your horse’s body condition score, as well as establishing weight is the best way to determine if your horse is overweight, and if so to what extent. Body condition scoring involves assessing the amount of fat coverage over specific bony landmarks and scoring this on a one to five, or one to nine scale. Just like humans horses and ponies lay down fat in different areas, so it is important to assess the whole horse. I use a nine point scale, and an overall score of 4 or 5 would be ideal.

2. The right forage ingested at the right rate

The aim of feeding an overweight horse, or one prone to laminitis is to provide a reduced calorifc intake, but still with plenty to eat so that digestive function is not compromised, and natural grazing behaviours can be mimicked. Good options for these horses and ponies are soaked hay, or hay that has been steamed and then soaked. If soaking hay isn’t possible then it is sensible to have your hay analyzed so you know exactly what you are feeding your horse.

3. Limiting the grass

At this time of year the grass is already starting to grow, particularly given the lovely warm days we have experienced recently. Unlike hay it can be difficult to assess how many calories your horse is receiving from the grass, and it is estimated that ponies who are only turned out for a few hours a day can ingested the same amount of grass as those turned out for a whole day. Providing your horse with less grass, but still giving your horse adequate turn out time is a real challenge. I saw a great set up at a yard last week where three ponies, who have previously suffered with laminitis, had an enriched ‘low grass’ turnout area, and looked very well and happy. They had access to a hard standing covered area with soaked hay, they had some safe ‘scrub-area’ with very poor patchy grass, and access to a little arena as well which they were clearly enjoying for rolling. This was a so much better than stabling these ponies, or giving them a ‘starvation paddock’. They had a lot of space to move around, they had to search out the hay and were able to satisfy their natural behaviours. 

Whilst this might be not possible to do at every livery yard a grazing muzzle is a useful way to limit grass intake, without compromising on turnout time. I find that owners are very reluctant to use a muzzle, but in my experience horses and ponies do get used to these very quickly. I suggest to owners that they start off with several different muzzles to find which one suits there horse or pony best, and swapping between different designs will help prevent rubs over the first few days.

Another option which is becoming increasingly more popular is the use of a ‘track’ grazing system, where the centre of a field is fenced off leaving the horses a large walkway round the outside. Hay can be provided if required but this limits grass intake, and encourages more movement which is ideal.

4. Establishing an underlying cause

Around 90% of laminitis cases actually have an underlying hormonal cause, and grazing is a trigger for laminitis to occur. The two conditions linked to laminitis are Cushings Disease, correctly termed Pituitary Pars Intermedius Disfunction (PPID), and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Working with your vet to establish the cause, and then establishing out a sensible treatment plan will help keep laminitis at bay.

5. Know the early signs

If you asked a room full of horse owners to name the signs of laminitis most would describe the classic ‘laminitis stance’, with the horse or pony rocked back on its heels. Research has highlighted many sub-clinical signs of laminitis, which if noted in time allow for treatment and management changes before the condition worsens. Horses may change their behaviour in the stable, banking up bedding under their hooves to take pressure off the front of the hoof. The appearance of hoof rings on the outside of the hoof, is likely to indicate changes in the lamellar cells, and this may allow a window of time for treatment before the condition develops and becomes increasingly more painful.

One study noted that the ‘Horse Grimace Scale’, a method of facial pain recognition scoring was a more accurate way to note pain associated with laminitis, and that these facial expressions were more common in laminitic horses and ponies than the classic laminitis stance. There are certainly many signs to look out for before the horse is lame with hot painful hooves.

If you are worried about laminitis, or want to learn more don't forget to support National Laminitis Awareness Day on 10th July and if you’re interested in learning more about how to recognise the first signs of a health problem and apply equine first aid, take a look at NKC Training courses.

How Trackener can help monitor laminitis

Thanks to our horse monitoring system, it is now possible to monitor laminitis prone horses and ponies much better. As movement or consequently lack of movement can be a good indicator that something is wrong due to pain or soreness in the feet, horses affected are likely to reduce movement out in the field or cease movement altogether however without watching them in the field 8 hours a day or more, this can be hard to quantify. Trackener consists of a device worn on a bib that links to an app on the user’s phone and provides insights on the horse’s activity, how far they travel, how much they lie down and gives feedback on heart rate and exercise sessions. This has proven invaluable to owners of laminitic horses, especially with weight management, and to see as soon as the horse's behaviour has changed which could mean he's in pain. To find out more, visit our website.

About the Author

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie, founder of NKC Equestrian Training is a horse lover, passionate about preventative health through education. Her courses are designed for horse owners to keep them up to date with veterinary guidelines on how to deal with wounds, colic, infectious diseases and other health issues so that they can be detected and prevented earlier on. The Horse First Aid Courses equip owners with the knowledge and confidence to then go away and prepare for all possible situations where first aid may be required and what to look for in their horse as normal and abnormal behaviour. You can contact Nicola directly here.