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Laminitis and the Role of the Farrier Part 2

Category: Horse Health

Added 16th August 2019

The role of the Farrier in managing the ‘at risk’ Equine. Part 2.


Kate Hore RNutr (Animal). Senior Nutritionist at NAF.


In the last article, we looked at the results of a major new survey into laminitis, it’s prevalence in the UK and risk factors. Results showed that around 10% of all equines had had an episode in the previous year, making it as prevalent as colic, and that both good management and farriery care are crucial to it’s prevention. But why is it that we see laminitis in even the best managed individuals?


Genetic Risk

Management is certainly key, but even with good management some individuals will always be more prone. Research is now getting a better understanding in to risks like Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS).


EMS is a similar reaction to Type II Diabetes, and means the animals are insulin resistant (I.R). In the wild, insulin resistance allows ponies to thrive on a very harsh diet, and explains why our Natives can thrive naturally in conditions such as Shetland, the Fells and Dartmoor to name but a few. Unfortunately this ability to thrive on low nutrient grazing becomes a problem when faced with rich agricultural swards. On modern grassland I.R. results in too much circulating glucose which is then laid down as ‘fat pads’, typically on the crest of the neck, the shoulder and tailhead. The diet should be managed to provide bulk as high fibre with little, or no, additional of cereals. A suitable high fibre diet helps keep non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs, sugars and starch) to a safe, manageable level in the diet. A high fibre diet can come from naturally grazing, but watch out for spring and autumn flushes of grass, which are high in the NSCs, and so it may be necessary to manage turnout accordingly.


Pasture Managment

Pasture management may include turning out with a grazing muzzle, using strip grazing, or turning out overnight, when pasture sugars are relatively low, and bringing them in during the day as levels rise. Try not to just fence off a small area for laminitics as this reduces their opportunity to keep moving and naturally active. Instead we can advise clients to look into the ‘Track System’, grazing around the edge of a field, and keeping them moving. Remember the importance of regular exercise, which not only helps to control weight gain, but also ensures healthy blood flow around the laminae.


Dietary Support

For the IR / EMS equine in hard work, low nutrient fibre alone may not provide sufficient energy. We can advise oil as a safe, suitable form of slow release energy for laminitics. Remember to introduce oil gradually to the diet over several weeks, to give the metabolism time to adjust to the new energy source, and to balance the provision of oil with additional Vitamin E.


Once we have set the general diet, is there a role for supplements?


Oxidative damage is noted within the laminae during episodes, and will be part of any systemic inflammatory response, therefore it is advised to supplement with high levels of antioxidants to laminitis prone animals. Antioxidants may be synthetic sources, such as Vitamin E, or naturally sourced from plants, such as rosehip and omicha berries.


It’s advised for what is essentially a metabolic condition, such as laminitis, to include gut support. Probiotic yeasts working in synergy with prebiotics are recommended, to maintain a healthy microbiome (microbial population of bacteria, yeasts, protozoa and funghi) in the hind gut. Natural herbal gut support such as ginger and chicory may be advised to maintain a settled gastric environment. Given the similarity to Type II Diabetes it is interesting to see the research in natural extracts in that area, such as the potential of licorice with a supplement to maintain healthy circulating glucose levels.


Also in human we see that an association between supplementing with magnesium and IR has been demonstrated. Clinical evidence in horses is, as yet, lacking but practical feedback has observed that supplementing with magnesium may be associated with a reduction in fat pads. Most weigh tapes, which we recommend for monitoring Body Condition, also include a centimetre marker. That scale can be used to take a mid-neck circumference reading, which is a really simple way of monitoring fat deposition along the neck.


In conclusion the right diet working in synergy with correct management will help keep the laminitis prone fit and healthy all the way through Summer and Autumn.



Ref : Pollard, D. , Wylie, C. E., Newton, J. R. and Verheyen, K. L. (2018), Incidence and clinical signs of owner‐reported equine laminitis in a cohort of horses and ponies in Great Britain. Equine Vet J. doi:10.1111/evj.1305