When reducing the risk of laminitis in horses, there are several factors to keep in mind, one of the most important being nutrition. Your horse’s diet can increase its risk of suffering from this condition. Below, we’ll take a closer look at some nutritional considerations to think about when it comes to reducing the risk of laminitis in horses.
Forage: Quality and Quantity
Forage is the foundation of a horse’s diet, and whilst it can supply them with energy, and allow them to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, it can also cause issues to horses that are at risk of developing laminitis. In the early spring, pasture is lush – but also high in sugar, and if a horse is left to graze on pasture at this time of year, it can result in metabolic imbalances and weight gain. Most good doers need reduced turn-out, strip grazing or a grazing muzzle to manage their intake to avoid excessive weight gain.
When access to grass is restricted, it is important to feed an alternative source of fibre and the most commonly used is grass hay. Testing helps to establish the suitability of hay and if it is higher in sugar than ideal, it is possible to soak hay before feeding to reduce the sugar content.
A vitamin and mineral supplement will help to ensure they’re getting a balanced, nutritional diet when their access to grass is limited.
Sugar and starch, collectively referred to as non-carbohydrates, need to be reduced for those prone to laminitis. You should ensure that the forage available to your horse is low in NSC like timothy hay or cereal straw can be used at up to 50% of the forage ration. There are also feeds that could be a good option when controlling carb intake. Look for feeds that are low in sugar and starch and contain ingredients like beet pulp, soy hulls, and vegetable oils that can be used for calorie maintenance in place of cereals.
Cereals have a high sugar and starch content, which means ingredients like maize corn, barley, and wheat will have a significant impact on your horse’s blood glucose and insulin levels. If your horse is consuming feed with a high cereal content, this can lead to a spike in insulin and potentially trigger laminitis. Feeding a diet high in cereals can disrupt the gut microbiome, increasing lactic acid production if the cereals are fermented in the hindgut causing various health issues such as colic. Overall, reducing your horse’s intake of cereals – especially if prone to laminitis – will help to keep them healthy.
Balancing the Diet
When taking the above steps into account, you should also consider whether your horse’s diet is meeting all of the horse’s nutritional requirements. Reduced pasture intake, soaking hay and calorie-controlled rations can all reduce the intake of other essential vitamins and minerals too so adding a balancer or vitamin and mineral supplement are important for ensuring the diet is balanced.