What to Feed a Laminitic Horse
As a horse owner, ensuring your horse is happy and healthy is essential, but you may also need to consider how to adjust should they end up with a disease, in this case, laminitis. This condition can be particularly painful and is typically the result of a metabolic upset. Below, we’ll take a closer look at suitable horse feeds for a laminitic horse.
What is laminitis?
Laminitis occurs in horses when the soft tissue in the hoof becomes inflamed and in severe cases can detach from the pedal bone allowing it to move in the hoof capsule. Damage to the laminae within the hoof is painful for your horse – it can have an impact on movement, and result in a reluctance to walk or even stand. There are a few reasons why laminitis takes hold in horses, such as:
- Diet: Overconsumption of rich, carbohydrate-heavy feeds can cause a disruption to the microbial population in the horse’s gut as the starch is fermented very rapidly in the hindgut making it much more acidic This can initiate a chain of events that ultimately result in changes to the blood flow to the foot -overweight horses are particularly at risk
- Obesity: Laminitis can be more severe in overweight horses as the additional weight on the hooves can increase the likelihood of the laminae failing. Overweight horses are also at greater risk of endocrine diseases such as EMS.
- Endocrine disorders: Diseases like equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and PPID are associated with hormonal imbalances, particularly Insulin Dysregulation (ID) Elevated levels of insulin, also known as hyperinsulinaemia, can result in laminitis
- Injury: Trauma to the hooves can also result in laminitis, especially if prolonged weight bearing has occurred over time.
Tips for feeding a laminitic horse
If your horse suffers from nutritional laminitis, knowing how to manage your horse’s diet for the better is essential. Here are a few tips to help you when it comes to feeding a horse with laminitis.
Your horse’s diet should be made up of mostly forage – and it’s no different for laminitic horses, but the type of forage you feed may need to be adjusted. Avoid feeding your horse lush pasture and grass, as this is high in sugar. Low-sugar hay is the usual basis for rations for promoting a healthy, balanced gut but with more moderate levels of sugar.
Soaking hay is recommended for reducing the sugar content of grass hay. Durham et al., (2019) summarised soaking hay for 7- 16 hours reduces water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content by 24 – 43%, but the levels of sugar lost are very variable according to the water-to-hay ratio and ambient temperature. During warm periods, ensure you soak hay for no more than 2 hours, as higher temperatures can increase the risk of microbial growth. Feeding your horse forage alone is unlikely to be enough in terms of vitamins and minerals, but we’ll explore this further below.
When feeding a laminitic horse, reducing the intake of high-sugar and starch feeds is essential, as these are risk factors for causing insulin dysregulation. There is a low starch, high fibre feeds available most horse feeds will state this on the packaging; however, you may need to get in touch with your chosen brand for more information.
Balancers and Supplements
If you think your horse is not getting the essential nutrients it needs from its diet, for example, grass access is being restricted to manage laminitis, you may require a feed balancer. This is a concentrated feed that supplies both vitamins and minerals, as well as nutrients like lysine – an essential amino acid. Soaked hay and restricted time pasture access may be recommended for your laminitic horse, however, this could lead to a diet lacking in protein. You can feed a balancer alone or add low-calorie fibre feed to increase chew time.
A supplement is another way to supply additional vitamins and minerals to rations for horses and ponies that require low starch and sugar diets. They tend to be lower in quality protein than balancers and are often more cost-effective options. In contrast to balancers, supplements as a powder need to be added to another feed, typically a low-calorie fibre option. Dampening the feed before adding the powder will ensure the supplement is mixed in well so your horse consumes it and therefore benefits from a balanced diet.