Laminitis is an extremely painful condition of the equine hoof, which in its simplest sense is inflammation of the lamellae of the inner hoof wall. But laminitis isn’t a condition of the hoof as such, its more the result of a previous metabolic or dietary event that is just expressed in the feet. The specific pathways that result in laminitis are complex and still not fully understood, but laminitis is normally either dietary (starch or fructan overload) or metabolic (insulin dysregulation/obesity/PPID (Cushings)). The good news is though, that managing the diet to promote recovery and avoid the events that can lead to laminitis, can help keep it under control. Follow these five tips from Lisa Elliott, MSc – Nutritionist at Castle Horse Feeds - to help your horse or pony get the right nutrition to combat laminitis.
1. Base the diet on low sugar/starch forage
For most laminitic horses or ponies, field turnout needs to be restricted but laminitic horses should also not be turned out on to ‘stressed’ pasture, for example, short stubbly grass. Plants produce sugars mainly during the day time, so the best regime to avoid this is to turn the horse or pony out from night to early morning, bringing them off the grass in the daytime when sugars are highest. Laminitic horses and ponies should never be starved whilst off grass but fed an alternative form of forage to keep their digestive system functioning well and if weight loss is needed, then forage can be reduced to a minimum of 1.5% bodyweight per day.
Forage should be low sugar/starch so it’s good to have it analysed. A typical analysis will show WSC (water soluble carbohydrates or simple sugars + fructan), ESC (ethanol soluble carbohydrates or simple sugars - fructan) and starch. The WSC and ESC can enable more specific nutritional management based on the type of laminitis present. For example, WSC is useful if the laminitis is dietary and ESC is useful if the laminitis is metabolic. NSC (non-structural carbohydrates i.e. starch plus sugar) can be calculated from adding all 3 measurements together. The ideal NSC for forage fed to laminitics or to avoid laminitis is <10% but this can often be quite difficult to find so <12% is often a more realistic figure.
If the NSC of the forage is above 10-12%, soaking is often recommended to reduce sugars, but some research has shown that it can be ineffective in reducing the WSC to a safe level for laminitics. Steaming hay has shown some reduction in WSC which could make it useful for a hay whose NSC is only just over the safe level (10-12%). Alternatively, feeding specifically produced low NSC (<10%) hays could provide an ideal solution for the laminitic horse or pony.
2. Add additional fibre as needed
High sugar and starch feeds i.e. cereals should be avoided so high fibre chaffs, ideally <10% sugar and starch can be fed to carry supplements or balancers and to provide a small bucket feed if desired. Additionally, if the horse or pony isn’t overweight, and needs additional energy for work, unmolassed sugar beet is very low in starch and sugar and can provide a beneficial source of highly digestible fibre.
3. Provide essential fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids may provide beneficial anti-inflammatory effects to help with laminitis. Linseed meal is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids, showing a similar fatty acid profile to grass which the laminitic horse or pony may be missing. Linseed meal can be fed at a rate of 50 – 200g but if your horse or pony needs to lose weight, then about 50g is best.
4. Micronutrients are essential too!
It is important to ensure laminitis prone horses and ponies are receiving a balanced diet with the correct levels of micronutrients. Anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E are beneficial to help prevent further damage and assist recovery from laminitis, and magnesium for example, is essential for insulin sensitivity. Lysine is the primary limiting amino acid and is often lacking in a forage-based diet. Without it protein cannot be synthesised correctly, and the right protein is essential to help re-build damaged hooves. Zinc and calcium are also important to support optimum hoof growth and quality. Feeding your horse or pony a nutritious, high specification balancer, should help provide these essential micronutrients at the right levels for recovery and prevention.
5. Promote beneficial microbes
Hindgut microbes are critical to the health of your horse but can be lost in the events leading to laminitis. Yeast culture fermentation contains both live yeasts and yeast metabolites to help re-build and support the growth of beneficial microbes and can be provided by feeding an appropriate balancer.