How to help prevent laminitis
There are a few things more horrible than laminitis, and of course, we never want our horses to end up with laminitis. There are some things that are totally out of our hands, but we create healthier lifestyles to help prevent laminitis. Hopefully.
- Always get your vet involved pronto if your horse is showing any signs of a hoof problem – the earlier you catch things, even minor things, the sooner your horse can get some pain relief.
Know your horse’s hidden risk factors for laminitis.
- The danger of laminitis for some horses starts with their metabolism and hidden disorders that only bloodwork and your vet can uncover.
- Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), also known as Cushing’s, carries with it an increased risk of laminitis. Same for Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Insulin Resistance.
- In a very brief nutshell, these disorders interfere with your horse’s hormones, increase insulin in their bodies, and contribute to a higher chance of laminitis. One of the leading causes of laminitis in horses is metabolic problems, and PPID and EMS are at the top of the list.
- Talk to your vet about testing insulin levels and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels which can indicate EMS and PPID, respectively. It’s also important to consider that in the fall, a horse’s ACTH levels rise naturally. The time of year is important when you are testing for ACTH, and many vets suggest monitoring ACTH in the spring and fall.
- Please don’t rely on your horse’s haircoat to guess if he has Cushing’s. Plenty of horses don’t have this big red flag.
Bloodwork can reveal metabolic disorders that increase a horse’s risk of laminitis.
Evaluate your horse’s diet.
- Low sugar and low starch diets are key for reducing laminitis risks – especially if your horse has a metabolic disorder. This starts with hay and pasture. Your horse’s hay can be tested for NSC’s – which are a great measure of “sugars”. Some hays are higher in NSC’s than others – you want to aim for a lower NSC value if your horse has risk factors for laminitis. You can also soak your horse’s hay to bring the NSC values down a bit.
- Learn when your horse’s pasture is spiking in sugars – like fall (!!), spring, after chilly nights, after mowing… My point is that when you can reduce the high sugar times in pasture, you are reducing laminitis risks. Use a muzzle if your horse needs some help limiting how much he eats in the pasture. He can deal, I promise.
- He can also use a dry lot for his turnout. Yes – it’s wildly romantic and wonderful to see your horse knee-deep in delicious grass, but dry lots are often best for some horses.
Hay pellets and cubes are great treats for horses.
- Your horse’s low sugar and low starch diet extend into the feed room. You can find feeds with low sugars and starches – like under 10% – if you look around. Avoid molasses as an ingredient.
- Talk to an equine nutritionist! Every horse will vary in his nutritional needs – and it’s super confusing. An equine nutritionist can help you sort things out and can tailor a diet to your particular horse.
- And yes, I 100% understand the “need” to treat our horses with carrots and apples. I’ve never met a horse that has spit out hay cubes or pellets or a handful of hay because he’s a treat snob. These affordable variations of hay are great low-sugar alternatives to horse treats. Although I’m sure “treat snobs” exist – but tough. I’d rather have a horse without laminitis than let him train me into treats.
- Also, keep your feed rooms locked! Horses that binge feed can send themselves into laminitis bouts pretty quickly. Even the horse that binges on a different type of hay that he normally eats can end up with problems like colic and laminitis.
Greenguard Equine makes a really nice muzzle for at-risk horses.
Be mindful of the footing.
- There’s no good formula for footing that works for all horses – but a few things are true for horses. Footing that is too soft or deep and rock hard footing can be dangerous for horses. Soft and deep footing can strain tendons and soft tissues. Hard footings can lead to bruises, cracks, and worse.
- Being conscientious about your horse’s footing can help him in the long run. Look out for uneven, packed, and rocky footing in the arena. In the field and trails, watch for deep mud, rocky ground, and hard-baked or frozen ground.
Know what you are riding on.
- If your horse wears shoes, find out if he could benefit from leather pads or another type of added protection. Thin-soled horses often need some help staying comfortable. It’s a matter of a few x-rays to find out if your horse’s hooves are balanced inside and out and how thick or thin his soles are.
- If your horse is barefoot, he might benefit from some boots that he can wear when exercising or on questionable footing. It never has to be an all-or-nothing situation with horseshoes – there are ways to find a happy medium to help the barefoot horse if needed.
- There’s also the footing in your horse’s turnouts and paddocks. Making sure they are free from metal bits as best you can is key. I use a long roofing magnet on wheels to sip around turnouts and under fences. The earth can easily burp up all sorts of weird things. This seems like a stretch from laminitis – but street nails and wounds on one leg can lead to supporting limb laminitis in healthy legs.
Physical exams of your horse to prevent laminitis.
- You don’t need to have your vet perform daily exams – there’s a lot you can do to keep tabs on your horse’s health. Start with his vital signs – temperature, pulse, respiration, capillary refill, and digital pulses. These are easily incorporated into your daily routine, it’s fast and painless.
Checking your horse’s digital pulse is easy and fast.
- If you have a horse that’s high risk for laminitis, his digital pulses should be on your radar even more. These little pulses give you valuable clues into hoof health, and in most horses, a lack of a digital pulse is a good thing. Some horses have a normal digital pulse that’s barely present. While you are checking these out, make sure there’s no heat in the hooves. This literally takes seconds.
- You can also keep track of your horse’s weight. There’s not much else that can contribute to metabolic disorders like EMS and IR more than your horse’s weight. Overweight horses need help to trim down, and regular weight checks can help you track that progress. Your vet can help you create a plan for weight loss.
Regular farrier care is also key.
- There’s a lot to be said for regularly picking your horse’s hooves daily (more than once!) and having the Farrier out. Ideally, trims are scheduled so that the hooves stay fairly close to balanced throughout the cycle.
- Farriers are also really good at being able to alert you to possible laminitis risks – like bruising along the white lines, changes in growth patterns, and sensitivities in the hoof.
Fingers crossed you never have to experience laminitis! Knowing the signs and risk factors can help you keep your horse safe from laminitis. Little things, every day, can make a big difference for your horse. Keep ahead of the curve!
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Thank you, and let’s end laminitis.