Reduce the risk of Spring Laminitis

Laminitis is a serious condition causing acute hoof pain and damage. The onset of Spring often brings an increase in cases of laminitis. Careful control of your horse’s diet to avoid laminitis, or management once it has occurred is key to maintaining a sound and happy horse or pony. 

Many horse and pony owners battle for months to restore the hooves and improve the gait following a bout of laminitis. Horses and ponies can suffer a single bout, or recurring episodes of laminitis, which can develop into the more serious structural hoof changes associated with pedal bone rotation, known as founder. 

The most common cause of laminitis in up to 80 % of horses and especially ponies, is sugar and starch overload, this is often referred to as ‘feed or pasture associated laminitis’. There are also many other causes of laminitis, not directly related to the diet which include concussion laminitis, toxic laminitis, stress laminitis and weight-bearing laminitis. 

Many areas of Australia have introduced pasture species, these are not often suitable for sugar sensitive horses and ponies and may cause weight gain. Native grass species mostly contain lower levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) more suited to a grazing horse. As many horse owners know, the provision of excess grain and hay can also result in the onset of laminitis. 

A horse or pony which is a ‘good-doer’ or overweight is susceptible to developing sugar induced laminitis, especially if they are insulin-resistant (IR) or have Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). These animals require careful dietary management to reduce the risk of laminitis or to prevent further episodes and avoid the progression to founder with pedal bone rotation and internal hoof collapse. 

Laminitis During Early Spring 

Winter grasses are boosted in growth by the increasingly warmer spring conditions and longer daylight hours, particularly after rain. When early Spring brings cool nights, but warm days, these grasses often become lush and highly productive. Ryegrass, Phalaris, cocksfoot, paspalum and fescue dominant pastures are considered high risk pastures, as well as succulent, rapidly growing clover and some weeds. 

Risky Fructan-Rich Grass 

The warm Spring daytime temperatures and sunlight result in photosynthesis of fructan sugars in the leaves of plants, causing a risk of laminitis, especially if they are grazed 24/7. The cool overnight temperatures in early spring reduces the rate that these sugars transfer from the leaves to the stems to form structural carbohydrates that grow and support the plant. Therefore, these fructans accumulate in the plant and can cause acute overload of these sugars in the horse’s hindgut. 

Sugar Intake from Stressed Grasses 

Horses and ponies are very good at grazing, even in sparse pasture conditions and often select the base of the plant and even ‘dig’ for the sweet roots. A period of sugar intake from these plant bases and roots can result in an increase in blood sugar levels and a surge of the hormone insulin, triggering an episode of laminitis (especially in an EMS/IR horse). 

Signs of Laminitis include: 

  • Shortening of the stride and shifting weight from one front leg to another. 
  • ‘Warm’ or hot hooves due to inflammation. 
  • Increase in digital pulse pressure, this can be detected by pressing the index finger just above the bulbs of the heel on each side of the affected hooves. 
  • Pain reaction to hoof testers 
  • Standing with the front legs extended forward with weight on the heels and back legs. 
  • Growth rings on the hooves as more oxygenated blood is directed through the coronary bands when lamellae blood flow is compromised by internal inflammation. 

Prevention of Laminitis 

Management to prevent pasture and feed related laminitis is most important from the start of Spring, when horses are grazing new grass growth. However, it is important to remember that laminitis can occur at any time of the year, so feeding management should be observed yearly. 

Pay particular attention to high risk events, including rapid grass growth in paddocks during early Spring, dried and wilted grass in Summer and severe frosts in Winter. Grazing management to avoid the intake of fructan sugars, especially in early Spring or high levels of soluble sugars and NSCs later in the year, is essential to reduce the risk of pasture-associated laminitis. 

Provide a low GI, low calorie diet for horses and ponies to help minimize the risk of reoccurrence and allow regrowth of a sound hoof structure. 

  1. Restrict Grazing Assess to 1 ½ hours in the morning (6 am – 10 am) and less than 30 minutes in the late afternoon as sugars in grasses are highest in the late morning to late afternoon period and into the evening. 
  2. Soak all hay as a horse with restricted grazing should be provided with hay each day to fulfill roughage needs. Soak lucerne hay in double its volume of luke-warm water for 30 – 60 minutes and drain out before feeding. 
  3. Feed a Low Starch, Low GI diet to help reduce sugar intake. A small hard feed with a selection of low sugar and low starch foodstuffs is normally all that is needed by overweight horses and ponies. 
  4. Feed a daily supplement of Kohnke’s Own TRIM to help slim down an overweight or cresty horse or pony. TRIM contains nutrients which have a role in the normal metabolism of sugars and helping fat breakdown in the liver. TRIM is a helpful weight management supplement for good-doer or sugar sensitive horses and ponies. 
  5. Try to provide regular daily exercise in ‘cresty’ or overweight horses and ponies, this will help minimize the risk of laminitis by utilizing more glucose during exercise. Do not exercise a horse or pony suffering from a bout of laminitis as severe internal hoof damage can occur. 
  6. Seek advice from an equine veterinarian if your horse or pony if significantly lame and suffering from laminitis or founder. X-rays may be required to determine the level of pedal bone rotation and to determine ongoing management techniques. 

Supplement with Kohnke’s Own Reboot Hoof+ for horses and ponies who have suffered a bout of laminitis to help promote healthy hoof regrowth and stabilization of hooves weakened by laminitis.

The risk of laminitis can be significantly reduced by following a good daily management routine which includes weight monitoring, pasture observation and diet control, including supplementation with Kohnke’s Own TRIM. Keep TRIM on hand during high risk seasonal periods so that quick action can be taken if your horse becomes cresty or overweight. TRIM is stocked in Horseland stores throughout Australia.