Spring is the peak time for grass-associated equine laminitis in most parts of the world. It can effectively treated or, better yet, prevented but only if the mechanism is understood.
First, what it's not.
There is zero evidence to support the idea that naturally occurring spring pasture laminitis is related to fructan and hind gut fermentation. In fact, all research points to it being caused by high sugar/starch and insulin resistance. Therefore, products like the antibiotic Founderguard or hind gut buffering agents will not be effective.
Animals at risk are ponies, minis, donkeys, full-size horses of breeds prone to insulin resistance and pregnant mares. There may be a history of prior episodes of spring grass laminitis in the individual or their relatives.
Although there is a desperate need for well designed studies to look at this in horses, a factor in addition to sugar/starch levels in rapidly growing grasses is their Magnesium content. In all species studied, low magnesium status worsens insulin resistance while replacing it results in improvement.
Grasses with magnesium less than 0.2% and potassium 3% or higher can cause magnesium-related problems in ruminants. This is most likely to occur in rapidly growing grasses and made worse by fertilizers containing Potassium. If animals cannot be removed from pasture, supplement with 8 to 10 grams of magnesium per day for an average size horse. However, there is no guarantee this will actually be protective.
Limiting grazing time is not always an effective preventative, at least in part because horses given restricted grazing time have been shown to consume grass at 3 times the normal grazing rate. As owners of affected animals can tell you, it does not take a long grazing time for susceptible equines to eat enough to cause laminitis.
The best prevention is to avoid access to spring grass completely. You can still turn out for 2 to 4 hour intervals but with a completely sealed muzzle. Feed only hays known to have a combined sugar (ESC) and starch level of less than 10%. Have minerals analyzed and properly balanced.
For an active case, the above measures still need to be implemented immediately. The key to stopping the process is eliminating the cause. If unsure whether hay is safe, soak it for 1/2 hour before feeding. A supplement that specifically targets only magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, selenium and iodine will cover the most frequently found mineral deficiencies until a hay analysis can be obtained. Chromium is useful for hays grown on alkaline soils.
Radiographs and a trim to make sure the hoof wall is tightly aligned to the internal structures are very important in both comfort and preventing any further damage.
Pain control is always understandably a major concern but it’s important to realize pain can't be controlled without removing the cause. NSAIDs like flunixin, phenylbutazone or firocoxib are reasonable for a few days but actually are not very effective for pain relief because features of other types of laminitis such as inflammation, enzyme activation, and endotoxemia do not apply to grass induced laminitis.
Once the correct diet and trim are in place, very good results have been obtained by supporting circulation to the feet with Jiaogulan, L-Arginine and L-Citrulline to fuel production of the vasodilator, nitric oxide.
Preventing spring grass laminitis is certainly preferable to treating it, but effective measures are available if you are faced with this challenge.
Uckele Health & Nutrition Offers Products that Address Spring Laminitis.
Bioplex Magnesium. Bioavailable source of Magnesium to ensure a higher level of delivery to cells to promote healthy muscles and nervous system function.
Magnesium Oxide. Highly concentrated source of Magnesium to support healthy sugar metabolism, muscle and heart function, and promote normal nervous system function.
Laminox. Supports healthy vascular function with Jiaogulan to promote circulation and structural hoof health. Contains the amino acid Arginine, a precursor to nitric oxide, which plays an important role in healthy blood flow.
Glycocemic EQ. Provides nutrients that are compatible with a wide variety of diets to support blood sugar levels within normal ranges
About the Author
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. www.ecirhorse.org
Uckele Health & Nutrition is an innovation-driven health company committed to being on the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years. Uckele takes pride in formulating and manufacturing a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances for equine athletes and companion animals to help achieve optimal health. For more information visit www.uckele.com.