Laminitis in horses and ponies

Tips on how to look after your laminitic

Laminitis An Autumn Flush

Spring is usually the time we most commonly associate as the risk period for horses and ponies developing laminitis.

However, an autumn flush of grass coupled with low overnight temperatures can be just as risky, leading to a spike in cases at this time of the year. While it can be tempting to put your four-legged friends back out to make the most of the grass, it is important to manage access to grazing carefully for those prone to laminitis.

Why is autumn a risk period?

Autumn can be a high-risk period, much like spring, because the perfect mix of warm weather and the sudden onset of autumn rain can lead to the rapid growth of grass packed full of water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC). This is often called an ‘autumn flush’.

In addition, when we have warm sunny days followed by a drop in temperature overnight, levels of WSC accumulated during the day may remain high at night. High intakes of these WSC’s may trigger laminitis.

Tips for preventing laminitis

With winter on its way, there is no wonder you will want to make the most of grazing, but care must be taken. Here are a few tips to help you manage the risk this autumn:

• For horses and ponies at very high risk, remove grazing completely and feed a suitable hay or hay replacer
• Use a grazing muzzle to restrict grazing or try strip grazing, turning out in bald paddocks or using ‘non-grass turnout’
• Beware of binge eating! Turning out for short periods without a muzzle or allowing free access to grazing after removing a grazing muzzle can lead to gorging
• Ideally feed a low WSC hay or a hay replacer low in starch and sugar
• Consider having your hay analysed. Although soaking helps to reduce WSC, results are variable and cannot guarantee suitability for animals prone to laminitis
• Total forage intake should not be restricted to less than 1.5%bodyweight (dry matter) per day. On average, this equates to approximately 9kg of hay (11kg if you intend to soak it) for a 500kg horse without grazing.

Providing a balanced diet

A balanced diet is important for every horse and pony. For those maintaining weight on forage alone, a balancer is the ideal way to provide vitamins, minerals and quality protein without causing excess weight gain.
However, if your laminitic has a tendency to lose weight, choose fibre-based feeds low in starch and sugar. If additional calories are needed avoid cereal-based feeds (cereals are high in starch) and instead, opt for feeds high in oil.

To rug or not to rug?

Winter can provide the perfect opportunity for horses and ponies that have been doing a little too well in warmer months to finally shed those extra pounds. Avoid over-rugging and instead let them use some of their excess body fat to keep warm as nature intended.