Fall laminitis in horses


I’ll bet that every single horse owner understands that spring grass is super high in sugar, and therefore a bit risky for some horses developing laminitis.  But fall laminitis is also dangerous, and for some horses, even more so. 


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Two big risk factors for fall laminitis


Your horse’s metabolic health, and the grass itself both contribute to laminitis as the weather cools. 

Metabolic health


  • It involves your horse and his body naturally making more ACTH in the fall.  This is one step, of many, in your horse’s metabolic goings-on.  This creates an increase in cortisol, which is linked to insulin dysregulation.  The connection between insulin dysregulation and an increased laminitis risk is real.  


  • It’s always a good idea to work directly with your horse’s veterinarian for specifics, and how your horse’s individual ACTH level changes and needs to be managed. Managing laminitis risk is also more than just managing access to pasture and sugars, so be sure that you and your Vet are looking at the whole picture – bloodwork, exercise levels, previous incidences, lots of stuff.




horse in buckets of ice

ICE ICE ICE ICE ICE if you even suspect laminitis.


Pasture conditions


  • Fall’s weather can sometimes be a guessing game, with wild swings of temperature and rain.  Many factors increase sugar and starch levels (the triggers for laminitis in some horses: 
    • Cool nights and mornings create sugar spikes. 
    • Warm afternoons also create sugar spikes.
    • Mowing and going to seed require pasture to hoard sugars and starches, too. 
    • Late summer rains can trigger a growth spurt of grass, not unlike that in the spring. 


  • Using grazing muzzles, especially for overweight horses, can be beneficial in tempering the risk of fall laminitis.  As usual, talk to your vet pronto if there are any signs your horse is “off.”



lush green pasture with barn in the background

Graze wisely!  And yes, this is our fall grass one year.  Looks a lot like spring. 


How to help protect your horse in the fall


  • Know your horse’s metabolic status.  It’s easy and affordable to do simple blood tests to monitor ACTH levels as well and insulin and glucose levels.  Your vet can help you pick the best tests.  Knowing your horse’s risk level helps you actively prevent laminitis. 


  • Feed a low NSC value diet.  Opt for bagged feeds and forages that are less than 10% NSC value.  This is a measure of the sugars and starches in horse feed.  


  • Add hindgut buffers to your horse’s diet.  This supplement will help balance the hindgut’s pH should there be too much sugary deliciousness in your horse’s hindgut.  Changes in pH are linked to microbe imbalances, gas colics, and laminitis. 


  • Use an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement.  Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory, support skin and coat health, taste great, and some even include gut health support, like pro- and pre-biotics.  Flax seed is affordable and most horses love the flavor. 


Omega 3’s are easy to feed!


  • Keep your horse moving.  Exercise and turnout are keys to healthy and happy horses. 


  • Monitor your horse’s weight.  A simple weight tape measurement done every few weeks tells you how your horse’s weight is trending.  Overweight horses have a higher risk of laminitis.  


  • Use grazing muzzles.  These wearable slow feeders allow your horse to move, socialize, and graze without overloading their hindguts with too much sugary grass. 



The following comes from the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance Group, Inc, (ECIR) 


  • Research has shown, and most veterinarians recognize, that the vast majority of laminitis cases are related to hormonal/endocrine disorders, specifically those involving insulin resistance. Avoidance requires diets very low in simple sugars (ESC) and starch, i.e., the components of the diet which cause an insulin rise (fructans do not elevate insulin).


  • While it’s true that regrowth of fall pastures and/or exposure to cold nights can raise the simple sugar and starch levels in the grass, fall laminitis can, and often does, strike horses that had no trouble handling spring pastures and even many horses with no access to pasture at all.


  • Eleanor Kellon, VMD, Veterinary Advisor to ECIR Group Inc, explains. “The typical case of fall laminitis is experiencing laminitis for the first time, or as a repeat of a previous fall episode. They are in their teens (or occasionally older) and owners report no change in diet or management. The cause is the seasonal rise in the hormone ACTH.”


fjord horse in greenguard grazing muzzle

Grazing muzzles from Greenguard Equine help reduce the risk of laminitis.


  • ACTH is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Its function is to stimulate the adrenals to release cortisol. Cortisol induces insulin resistance and also makes the blood vessels in the hoof more sensitive to chemicals mediating constriction. “All horses experience this seasonal rise in ACTH”, said Kellon, “but it can be much more pronounced in older horses, particularly those in the early stages of PPID (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction – Cushing’s disease) which may not yet be showing any obvious outward symptoms.”


  • The ECIR group has been following horses with hormonal disorders for over 15 years. In that time we have seen many horses whose first sign of PPID was an episode of fall laminitis. If your horse experiences this, have a talk with your veterinarian about testing for ACTH and PPID. The usual dietary measures are not enough when high levels of ACTH are involved. These horses require therapy with pergolide.

More about the ECIR Group, Inc.


  • Started in 1999, the ECIR Group is the largest field-trial database for PPID and IR in the world and provides the latest research, diagnosis, and treatment information, in addition to dietary recommendations for horses with these conditions. Even universities do not and cannot compile and follow long term as many in-depth case histories of PPID/IR horses as the ECIR Group. In 2013 the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance Group Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation, was approved as a 501(c)3 public charity. Tax-deductible contributions and grants support ongoing research, education, and awareness of Equine Cushing’s Disease/PPID and Insulin Resistance.





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