The most common form of laminitis is usually triggered by a high intake of carbohydrates (in particular, water soluble carbohydrates). This disturbs the microflora in the large intestine of the horse. Laminitis can also be triggered by, for example, another disease, metabolic dysfunction, medication, foaling complications, stress, etc. Large amounts of soluble carbohydrates can be found in cereals (in the form of starch) and grass regrowth. Remember that fresh grass may still be growing in the autumn. Laminitis was previously thought to be triggered by too much protein. Despite protein not being the only trigger for laminitis, it is probably one reason for why certain horses get laminitis. Feed rations containing insufficient amounts of plant fibres are not conducive to the digestive system of the horse. Fibres are essential for the maintenance of a good intestinal flora and energy use. The right balance between energy and protein is also of importance for the general well-being of the horse.
Try feeding your horse a relatively coarse type of hay (= lots of plant fibres) with a nutritional value that is not too high. This allows for the horse to consume a lot of forage – which will stimulate the intestinal flora. The rest of the feed ration should consist of concentrate feed. Make sure to meet your horse’s need for vitamins and minerals. Choose a concentrate feed that is high in fibre and low in starch. Try to maintain a regular feeding routine with evenly distributed feeds and feeding times. Dietary changes should be made very gradually and with great caution. A change of hay should take at least 14 days while a change from stable feed to grazing should preferably take even longer. Start by letting your horse graze for short periods of time while, at the same time, reducing its concentrate feed. Continue feeding your horse hay for as long as possible. One good way of doing this is to let the horse have its usual ration of hay in the stable before it is turned out on grass. Do the same in the autumn – especially if there is new grass growth in the winter paddock. Start by giving your horse hay, gradually increasing the amount of hay until it is time to start feeding concentrate feed.
Always contact your vet if you suspect laminitis. A horse with laminitis should be stabled on a deep bed of either wood shavings or peat moss. The horse should be given pain relief and if deemed necessary, be fitted with special supportive shoes or pads. A stronger digital pulse at the side of the vertebrae can usually be felt and the hooves often feel warmer than usual. Once the horse seem to have recovered from laminitis, it must be brought back into work very cautiously. Expect at least 6-9 months of convalescence before the horse regains full fitness again. Regular and proper hoof care by a certified farrier is paramount. Many laminitic horses need special supportive shoes which, in order to function properly, may require some extra effort and work by the farrier. The hooves of a laminitic horse are often of a poor quality and at risk of developing abscesses. Changes in the everyday life of the horse should be avoided, if at all possible. Dietary changes should be introduced gradually. Do not vaccinate or worm your horse the same week that it, for example, is going through a change of stable or feed. Several simultaneous changes may just prove to be too much for your horse, triggering another attack of laminitis. In the summer, avoid turning your horse out on grass at night and first thing in the morning. Only turn your horse out on pasture that has already been grazed and avoid pastures with spring grass growth. If you are able to identify what has triggered your horse’s laminitis then try not to expose your horse to the same trigger in future.
We still do not completely know why laminitis occurs and how exactly it should be treated but research has come a long way and is still ongoing. Ask your vet, farrier and equine nutritionist for advice on how to best manage a horse with laminitis.