Common risk factors for laminitis in horses
Horses of any type can develop laminitis – so it’s always a good idea to monitor every horse closely for any sign of laminitis. As with most medical issues, especially laminitis, do not wait to call the veterinarian. Early intervention is critical! Work with your vet to determine your horse’s risk factors for laminitis – many are manageable.
Common laminitis risk factors for horses
- Metabolic issues, such as IR (insulin resistance), EMS (equine metabolic syndrome), and Cushing’s disease are all risk factors for laminitis. Simple blood tests can alert you to any brewing issues, long before you see the telltale signs of fatty deposits, cresty necks, and insane winter coats. My veterinarian suggests at least yearly tests for these conditions on all horses over the age of 13, with exceptions for younger horses on a case-by-case basis.
There are many styles of grazing muzzle to choose from. Make sure you rotate styles and halters to help prevent rubs.
- Management of these conditions with a low carbohydrate diet (No more carrots!), grazing muzzles, repeat blood work, medications, and diligent grooming can help you reduce the laminitis risk. Every horse is going to be different – it’s up to you and your veterinarian to come up with a good treatment plan, and up to you alone to do the daily monitoring and execution of the plan!
Genetics and lifestyle play a role, too
- Age/gender/size. Older horses are at a higher risk of laminitis, as are geldings. Ponies are more likely to develop laminitis than horses.
- Diet. Rich pasture and a high sugar content feed are certainly higher in “sugars” which are known to play a part in some laminitis cases. If you have doubts or concerns about your horse’s diet, an Equine Nutritionist can help you sort things out.
Know what’s in your horse’s feed. You can find feeds with “sugars” as low as 4%. Many senior feeds, unfortunately, contain “sugars” as high as 20% or more.
- Weight. The obese horse is more likely to develop laminitis, among other things. Exercise levels may also affect your horse’s laminitis risk profile. It’s very easy for your veterinarian to guide you through how to determine your horse’s body score. It’s also super easy for you to tape your horse frequently to determine its weight – this will help you in tracking trends over time.
- Genetics. Certainly, the propensity for developing laminitis is carried in your horse’s genes. Hoof design and size and strength all play a role here, too.
Rich pasture can increase the risk of laminitis for many horses! But remember the even dormant grass in the winter can have sugar spikes when the temps stress out the grass. This is the Greenguard Equine Grazing Muzzle and Halter.
More factors to consider
- Supporting limb laminitis occurs when a horse’s injured leg is too painful to bear weight, so his other leg bears more than its fair share and develops laminitis. The racehorse Barbaro is a famous example of this.
- Road founder, aka concussive laminitis, happens when the footing is hard and unforgiving and your horse experiences repeated concussions on his hooves. This is case in point of why icing your horse’s legs and hooves after exercise on any questionable footing is a good idea.
Running around on hard ground like this is not such a super-duper idea.
- The dreaded loose horse that gorges on grain or gorges on hay, and yes, that’s a thing. Laminitis here occurs due to the violent overload of sugars in your horse’s system that triggers dangerous amounts of endotoxins, a by-product of digestion, which causes laminitis.
The bottom line is to know your horse inside and out. Work closely with your veterinarian regarding weight, regular blood work, an exercise program, and appropriate pasture types and time for your horse. Remember, too, that one call to your veterinarian if you even remotely suspect laminitis can save his life. Don’t wait!
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