Laminitis is a debilitating disease that can cause great physical pain and potentially loss of long-term soundness. Nutritional countermeasures may, however, keep susceptible horses from developing laminitis. Horses and ponies diagnosed with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and metabolic syndrome (EMS) are more susceptible to developing laminitis.
Dietary management often focuses on restricting intake of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), namely sugars, starches, and fructans. The consumption of these particular carbohydrates can increase the risk of laminitis through hyperinsulinemia or hindgut disturbances in laminitis-prone horses.
Each horse or pony must be fed in a way that best supplies its nutrient requirements while reducing the risk of laminitis. Here are some general points to consider.
- Diets should be based on appropriate forage, such as grass hay with a low NSC content (less than 10-12% dry matter) fed at a rate of approximately 1.5-2% body weight. Mature hay typically has lower digestible energy and NSC content when compared to less mature grass hay. NSC content also depends on environmental factors during growth and harvesting. Whenever possible, a forage analysis should be performed on hay intended for horses with PPID and EMS. Soaking hay for 30-60 minutes before feeding can help to reduce the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content.
- Restrict or avoid access to pasture. Consumption of pasture can be controlled through the regular use of a well-fitted grazing muzzle; strip-grazing behind other horses or sheep. Other grazing considerations include choosing a time of day when NSC are lowest in plants (late at night through early morning), avoiding spring or autumn grazing, and steering clear of stressed grasses, such as those subjected to frost or drought. In situations that call for severe restriction of NSC intake, no grazing should be allowed, though an appropriate forage alternative can be fed in a dry lot.
- Feed a low-calorie balancer such as Stamm 30 to horses and ponies on a forage only diet.
- Avoid feedstuffs high in NSC, such as straight cereal grains (plain oats, for example) or sweet feeds. Sweet feeds that contain primarily cereal grains and molasses can boost the NSC content to 45-50%.
- For lean horses or horses in work, other feedstuffs may be necessary for maintenance of weight. Feeding concentrates low in starch and sugar such as Re-Lite, Re-Leve or Re-Solve, are ideal for providing additional energy. Energy is provided by fat (vegetable oil, stabilized rice bran) and fermentable fiber (beet pulp, soy hulls) sources to ensure a low starch content.
- Supplement with a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. A study in horses indicates that DHA alters circulating fatty acids, modulates metabolic parameters, and may reduce inflammation in horses with metabolic syndrome.
- Monitor body weight through regular weighing or body condition scoring. Attention to changes in weight or body condition score can keep horses in an acceptable weight range.
If you are concerned that your horse or pony is at risk of developing laminitis or you would like specific feeding advice, don’t hesitate to contact our team.