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Preventing Laminitis

What's wrong with this pony? See bottom of page.

Pony in "founder stance"
  Laminitis episodes are more common in the spring and autumn seasons, when the grass usually starts to grow after being dormant for a while and is producing a lot of sugar. It's a sort of triple threat, as most pastures are overgrazed (stresses the grass so it makes MORE sugar) and horses aren't used to much grass, so a sudden increase, as any dietary change can do, can wreak havoc on his metabolism, and trigger it.  Fresh green grass is most appealing after a winter of dry hay so horses are more apt to gorge on it. 
   When grass is starting to shoot up in your pasture you have a couple of options to prevent laminits from green grass. You can dry-lot your horse, at least until the grass is more mature, but then it's still a threat as a diet change when you let him out later in the season. Or you can dry-lot him year round, but is expensive to feed hay when you have grass, and it's boring and less healthy for most horses. Partial dry-lotting, where you turn the horse out in the late evening and night time, allows him access to grass when it's least sugary for the 24hr period, and keeps his system used to consuming some grass, and allows him to get the exercise in the pasture. Let him have his hay ration before he's turned out so he's full and less apt to binge.
  Grazing muzzles are useful tools. They have a small hole in the bottom so your horse can only get small bites of grass at at time. This slows him down considerably and he has to work harder. This is great so your horse can socialize and exercise, and enjoy some grass, too. I don't recommend leaving them on more than 12 hours a day. A combination of dry-lotting and muzzles work great! It's a great program for any horse that's prone to obesity.

Laminitis can also be triggered by retained placentas in birthing mares, sickness like strangles or even from excessive work on hard surfaces before the hooves are conditioned or if shod with metal shoes.  For most horses, though, the diet is going to be the trigger. How do you avoid laminitis?

  1.   Avoid sudden diet changes, espcially when increasing grain rations or grazing on green grass.
  2.   Avoid feeding grain altogether unless your horse simply works too hard to get enough calories from hay. If he needs vitamins, use supplements instead.
  3.   Keep up with vaccinations to avoid contageous illness. *one caveat, vaccines can cause sever allergic reaction and laminitis! Only vaccinate for what is necessary!
  4.   Monitor your horses' births and check the afterbirth and call the vet if any appears retained.
  5.   Do not overfeed your horse. If he's already fat with lumps over his tail head, has a creased spine or cresty neck, he's much more likely to founder with a small diet change than if a normal, healthy weight. Obesity is being studied as a leading factor to Metabolic disorders later in life, much like diabetes.
  6.    Maintain hooves. Have his hooves trimmed regularly. Short hooves suffer less damage in a lamanitic attack than overgrown or shod hooves do. Mechanical founder can happen in poorly trimmed or shod hooves, without a dietary overload.
  7.   Limit drug use. Over using deworming medicines can upset the gut flora and create a pro-laminitis situation. Use them only when needed, in the proper amount and give your horse probiotics afterward to re-establish healthy gut flora. Ditto for antibiotics and pain killers like Bute. They all have a place, but excessive use contributes to overall distress in the body.
  8.   Exercise your horse. If your horse is moving, he's metabolizing the toxins. If he gets in a grain bin, walk him if he's not yet showing acute pain. Horses that ARE showing acute pain (founder stance) should not be forced to move, esp on sharp turns. Once the acute pain subsides (about 72 hours) get him moving gently again. Movement stimulates growth, healing and burning the fat off obese horses.


Several things. First, she's very obese. Note lumpy fat deposits over rib, spine and hips? Tail head is sunk in between fat pockets on her buttocks. She's in acute phase laminitis in this picture. She is also suffering from chronic, or long-term laminitis episodes. Note the elf shoe hooves that have many ripples? Each ripple is laminitis. This is years in the making.The elf shoe look is from the wall being peeled back as it's attatchment to the coffin bone detaches as well as lack of exercise and proper trimming to keep the damage minimized. Not visible in the picture is the White Line Disease and thrush that is eating her hooves as well, which will make her a challenge to fix.

First things first, she is now on a diet, and once she's not rocked back like this in pain, she will be turned out and/or hand walked, and kept on a 2-3 week trim cycle for a while while being treated for WLD and thrush infections. No horse should have to suffer this once, much less to this chronic, deformed state.