Laminitis is a scary and awful condition to see in a horse or pony. I know from experience as one of my ponies is prone to it ever since I have rescued her with having it. I have learnt the hard way through the years after getting inappropriate advice and/or experts not really knowing what to do or catching up with the latest research. It has become very frustrating to say the least. So I am sharing my knowledge of it here.
Laminitis requires attention immediately.
What is laminitis?
A good eighty to ninety percent of laminitis is caused by insulin resistance or dysregulation which is part of EMS (equine metabolic syndrome). Diet is a major factor which causes insulin resistance caused by the horse carrying excess weight and/or usually on pasture eating too much commercially grown grass which is usually very high in sugars which tend to ferment in the hind gut, causing insulin dysregulation and an inflammatory response/lamellae separation from the hoof wall.
If it is an older horse, Cushing's Disease and/or PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) have to be ruled out, which are caused by adenomas or enlargement of the pituitary gland. Make sure you get blood tests by your Vet and you might want to also consider medication to get this under control. There are also articles on ecirhorse.org on how the herb Chaste tree can possibly help as an alternative, however I would be under the guide of an experienced equine herbalist if this is the path you want to follow.
Laminitis cripples horses and so the signs of it become evident in the way a horse walks or stands. It is painful for them to walk or even stand as the lamellae, which are like our fingernails, become seperate from the inner hoof wall and so there is loss of attachment of the coffin bone. This makes for an extremely painful condition.
Other signs of laminitis and/or insulin resistance in your horse or pony include:
Cresty neck from abnormal fat deposits
Puffiness in the hollows above the eyes
Advanced symptoms include increased thirst and urination, loss of body condition and muscle wasting
If you're feeling the pulse regularly, a bounding, strong digital pulse will also be evident.
In blood test results, above normal insulin with normal blood glucose. May also have high glucose in advanced cases or if on an inappropriate diet.
Like i said before, usually in a lot of cases in younger horses, laminitis is caused by EMS which is characterised by insulin resistance or insulin dysregulation. What causes insulin resistance in horses? Same as humans! A lot of carbohydrates/sugars in their diet! Therefore any grain or pasture (any grass..even if its brown) should be eliminated from the diet as the sugars in grass especially in Spring and Autumn is very high in sugar. Hence laminitis is commonly seen at this time of the year.
So as soon as you suspect your horse or pony has laminitis and you know the trigger or what has caused it (usually getting into the feed bin full of grain or too much grass) you should implement the emergency diet straight away. Please DO NOT STARVE YOUR HORSE. This will worsen the condition by raising their stress hormone (cortisol).
Ive created a "dry lot" especially for when my little Holly is on the verge of getting it so i can lock her in there and she has no access to grass at all. Ive had to truck in heaps of concrete sand so that it covers any grass and there is access to a shelter where they go in to rest and eat at night or in bad weather. It's big enough that she can walk around and do exercise. However it is important that in the acute phase of laminitis that the horse does not walk much at all and possibly shoes are needed to support the structures of the hoof. Please get your farrier to check if you are in doubt. And make sure you have soft comfortable bedding under shelter if your horse or pony is in that much pain that it wants to lie down. May I add, this is also a good time to do acupuncture (as I have done on my Holly) to aid healing and repair.
So what do you feed?
In the stage where the laminitis is acute, you need to soak the hay. Find a small garbage bin on wheels (buy from Bunnings) and fill it up with water. Put the hay in a 3cm hay net and soak for 1 hour in the bin, put a rock or something heavy to keep they hay net under water at all times. After an hour, remove the hay from the water, let it drain for 5 minutes and feed to the ponies. Make sure you don't reuse the water.
Soaking hay removes about 30 percent of sugars and also a bit of potassium which also is not the best for horses usually because the potassium content in hay and grasses is higher tham sodium which disturbs the horses mineral imbalance. To be sure on this, get your hay tested. Forage Lab Australia are great! And the turnaround in results is so quick.
Why do we do this?
To remove as much sugar from the diet as much as we can. The sooner you do this, the quicker your pony will turn around and also possibly lose weight which maybe contributing to the EMS.
Ive had to soak hay for 12 hrs, overnight for 2 to 3 weeks initially, in a lot of water, for Holly to loose weight as 1 hour wasn't as effective. Not everyone, vets, experts, would agree on this as it can increase the bacteria in the hay, I was careful to do it when it was Autumn, it was cold and using also the water was cold and I found that the hay didn't ferment as much. I also got the hose and thoroughly rinsed the hay before feeding it to the ponies and they ate it fine, no problem considering how fussy they are with their hay.
How about supplements?
I also gave them a handful of rinsed, soaked, rinsed Speedibeet, with a scoop of Feedchar, 10g of salt and a multivitamin/mineral supplement as well as @ 20g of crushed linseeds at least once a day which helped with any nutrient deficiency including omega 3's and undesirable mycotoxins/bacteria in the hay and helped with their digestion. Please read up on Feedchar on Google and Facebook.
Call your farrier
At the same time, call your farrier, this is also just as important as the diet.
A trim is important to correct alignment and hoof mechanism to also reduce pain. Note that NSAIDS (non steroidal anti inflammatories) will not help with the hoof painpast the acute stage of laminitis.
If your farrier suspects a structural change, please get an x ray. My pony had a 20 degree rotation in both her front feet which was not picked up by previous equine therapists/barefoot trimmers. Hence her recovery was not only dreadfully slow, which made me very stressed, her feet were growing in the wrong conformation, she was getting a rather long toe, which was not a good sign and I say always follow your intuition and gut instincts and call for another opinion when in doubt, biggest lesson of all. After the x rays, my farrier knew exactly how and where to trim, and guess what...she was in the improve! At the same time I was giving her weekly acupuncture treatments for weight control and to improve digestion.
When in doubt, get your hay analysed
As all this was going on, I decided to get my hay analysed for sugar content as i knew at some point, i was not going to soak hay twice a day of the rest of their life (was doing it for both ponies as Holly and Doodie are inseparable). I wanted to know that the hay I was feeding them was not high in sugar otherwise I would have to buy some low sugar hay. Once Holly lost some weight and trimmed right down and she was walking normal, I knew this was the time I could feed her un soaked hay at 1.5 to 2 percent of her body weight to keep her on the slim side.
So i got the hay analysed by FORAGE LAB AUSTRALIA, here are the results
Throughout the years mainly through trial and error, the Equine Cushing's and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group has found that horses prone to laminitis do well on hay that has ESC (Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates) and Starch combined below 10 percent. As you can see, the Henderson hay comes in just under 10 percent and the Tully hay is lower but the protein is very high. So I have decided to combine the two and since doing so Holly has done very well, also with follow up trims from the farrier initially every two weeks, then four weeks and her foot is looking normal again and the rotation seems to be less.
Two months on and she is going great! And the farrier is very happy with her too. It is now the heart of Winter here and so she is now in a small paddock with a little grass for over a month now and seems to be doing well. She has a handful of chaff twice a day with her supplements including the Feedchar which I think has helped her hind gut tolerate the sugars in the green grass which can even be an issue in Winter, especially in short grass after a frost morning and sunny days where the grass stores more sugar. For more information about grasses in general for horses, go to saftergrasses.org
I would like to thank the following people and resources for supporting me through such a stressful time with my Holly and educating me so much about the correct way to go about treating laminitis. Don't assume all vets and equine experts are across this metabolic disease and how to treat it, as I've discovered, sometimes you need to do the research yourself and get several opinions.
Thank you for reading and hope this helps if your horse or pony is struggling with laminitis
The laminitis site
Allan Moffat and Lucy Chadwick
Forage Lab Australia
Karen and Stephen from Feedchar