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Managing Laminitis in Spring

We are once again arriving at the time of year where laminitis cases begin to soar, so owners should be starting to think about managing their horses to reduce the risk of laminitis. The post below will help you to understand the risk factors, preventative measures and treatment for laminitis.

Why is laminitis more likely in Spring?

Now that the days are getting longer, the increase in daylight triggers an increase in photosynthesis. When more photosynthesis happens, more non-structural carbohydrates (sugar and starch). These NSCs are used by the grass as fuel for growth on the warmer nights, but on nights that are too cold for growth they just accumulate in the grass. This means that in the morning the sugar and starch levels in the grass are at a very high level. Why is this a problem? Because sugar causes an insulin spike.

Is my horse at risk of laminitis?

Horses most at risk of bouts of laminitis are those with metabolic conditions such as EMS and PPID (Cushings). This is because both of these conditions result in excessive insulin being released when sugar is consumed. Insulin has a direct impact on the hoof, damaging the laminae – the tissues that attach the hoof wall and the pedal bone.

How do I know if my horse has laminitis?

Despite horses with metabolic conditions being at an increased risk of laminitis, it is important that all horses are monitored for any clinical signs. These may include:

- Lameness

- Rocking or leaning back onto their heels to remove weight from the toe

- Heat in the hoof

- An increased pulse in the hoof

Indications that your horse may be at risk of developing laminitis include:

- Diagnosed hormonal disorders such as EMS & PPID

- Obesity – cresty neck, fat deposits behind shoulder, heart shaped bum

- Certain breeds are more genetically predisposed to developing laminitis, in particular native breeds such as Shetlands, Welsh, Dartmoor.

- Unrestricted access to lush grazing, particularly in spring and autumn.

How do I prevent laminitis?

The risk of your horse developing laminitis can be significantly reduced by adjusting the way they are managed. Some of the most important adjustments include:

- Appropriate feeding. If a laminitis-prone horse requires a bucket feed, then it is important to stick to fibre-based feeds that are low in sugar and starch.

- Grass management. Laminitis-prone horses should not be allowed unrestricted access to lush grazing. There are various ways in which turnout can be managed, such as strip grazing, using a sacrifice paddock or track systems. If these are not possible for you or your yard, then limiting your horse’s time in the field or use of a grazing muzzle may need to be considered.

- Weight management. As previously mentioned, overweight horses are at a greater risk of developing laminitis than those who are at their correct weight. Scales are a fantastic way of accurately monitoring your horse’s weight, however many people do not have regular access. This is why all owners should be able to accurately condition score their horses. As a general rule: ribs should be felt but not seen; the neck should not have a crest; the hindquarters should be rounded but not heart shaped and the horse should not be carrying fat deposits behind the shoulder.

What should I do if my horse gets laminitis?

Firstly, always consult your vet if your horse has a sudden change in soundness or health. If you suspect your horse may be suffering a bout of laminitis, then there are a couple of things you can do immediately to help them.

- Bring them in from the field if possible and keep them on box rest.

- Provide them with a deep bed (right to the door) to support their feet.

- Soak their hay to remove as much of the carbohydrate as possible.

- Call your vet to assess the severity, and to make a treatment plan moving forward.

At Ashtree Equine Rehabilitation we have the ideal facilities for a horse recovering from laminitis, so if you would like help with your horse then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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