Laminitis - causes, management and prevention.
Laminitis is a very painful inflammatory condition, of the lamina ie the tissues within the hoof that bond the hoof wall to the pedal (coffin) bone. The lamina is made of two layers, the insensitive layer which grows from the coronary band (comparable to the finger nail) and the sensitive lamina (similar to the skin under the finger nail) which interlock with the insensitive tissue forming an amazingly strong bond.
Historically it is believed that this condition only affects fat little ponies and only during the spring flush of grass, however laminitis can affect any horse, of any age or size, any sex and at any time of the year.
Laminitis can be triggered by a variety of metabolic or physical changes within the horse. The weakening of the supporting laminae within the hoof leads to a very painful tearing of the supporting structure which holds the pedal bone in position.
The most common and obvious signs are heat in the hoof wall, reluctance to walk forward, difficulty turning, a rocking stance leaning backwards on the front limbs and sometimes an increased pulse in the coronary band and behind the pastern.
Horses are trickle feeders and have been designed with an effective digestive system to deal with the high fibre, however with better quality grasses in paddocks and the supplementary feeding, dietary implications may result.
The sugars in lush grass have been proven to affect this condition, however the underlying cause is how much is eaten, how quickly they eat and more importantly how efficient the individual is at digesting their feed before the sugars ferment in the hind gut.
The food your horse eats is initially broken down by enzymes in the first part of the digestive tract and nutrients are readily absorbed. Any excess sugars and complex carbohydrates then pass to the hind gut (large bowel) where the a fermentation process occurs, this produces large amounts of acid. If the horse has no need for this energy source it converts to lactic acid which is believed to be a trigger for laminitis.
Other causes of laminitis may be hormonal changes such as Cushing disease or other metabolic disorders compromising the absorption and management of all nutrients.
What you can do to manage the risk
* Be aware of your horse's weight, no excess fat as shown by a crest on the neck or a gutter along the back, or too thin as they will gorge when fed.
* Regular farriery - to trim your horse's hooves to ensure good foot balance and be aware of any changes shown on the soles, such as discolouration along the white line. Always ask the farrier his advice.
* Do not over work the horse or pony on hard surfaces and control feeding according to the amount of work.
* Restrict grazing of lush grass, cereal based feeds for high energy containing high levels of starch. Feed bran sparingly as it affects the levels of calcium within the body which is one of the important minerals needed for healthy hoof growth.
* Do not turn laminitics out in the frost, on stressed or bare paddocks. Late evening is best for turnout as it is when the sugar levels are lower, if possible strip graze during the growing season.
* Do not starve your pony/horse, soak hay thoroughly, and feed hay in a small hole net.
If you suspect your pony/horse has laminitis please seek veterinary advice immediately.
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