Laminitis is not a death sentence, but management takes 100% commitment.
We follow and recommend the principles set in place by the ECIR Group (Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance Group) www.ecirhorse.org
If your management during high risk seasons (typically Autumn and Spring) or for high risk horses is complete turnout on pasture without limited (safe hours) grazing, be prepared for the worst.
This is a summary of an emergency plan for pasture induced laminitis however, nothing will replace strict management.
Recommendation is to graze early morning (between 3am and 10am) or a variation of hours within that and have a “dry lot” with access to low sugar and starch hay. D.D.T + E = DIAGNOSIS, DIET, TRIM AND EXERCISE
PREVENTION IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN A CURE
DIAGNOSIS – Laminitis can affect any horse or pony, especially with these exceptional seasons we are now experiencing. Great for fattening livestock but not so for horses. Vets are the only horse practitioner who can “diagnose” but if you recognise the symptoms of laminitis, your hoof care professional can usually help you assess and will then direct you to your veterinarian for further testing. Your hoof care practitioner may also be the one who picks up the subtle signs at your regular trim appointment prior to the horse showing laminitis symptoms.
Please follow their advice. Referring to a veterinarian may involve blood samples to check for PPID (Equine Cushing’s Disease) or EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome). It is highly recommended that the veterinarian also performs radiographs of the hooves to check for any rotation or distortions which will also allow your hoof care practitioner to have a clearer picture of what is needed for the rehabilitation stage. Please discuss these options with your hoof care provider and veterinarian so they may work together for the best outcome for your horse.
Whilst waiting for diagnosis – remove your horse from all grazing and restrict to a comfortable yard which is dirt/sand/shavings – whatever area you have available. If you don’t have a suitable area available – GET BUSY – NO EXCUSES. DIET REMOVE THE INSULT!
In the areas of Australia which have had drought breaking rains over the last year or so, we are seeing so much pasture induced laminitis. Remove your horse from grass immediately and ensure you have a safe secure dirt/sand yard for them to be confined. This is not cruel; this is your responsibility as a horse owner to implement the emergency actions needed for your horse to have the best chance of recovery.
- Try to estimate the weight of your horse. If you have not recently had your horse on a weigh scale, you may like to try a weight tape to estimate their current weight.
- If your horse needs to lose weight, feed is to be weighed and fed at the rate of 1.5% of bodyweight per 24-hour period. If your horse does not need to lose weight, feed 2% of their bodyweight per 24-hour period. This percentage includes the hard feed portion of the diet.
A RECOMMENDED SUITABLE DIET for EMERGENCY IMPLEMENTATION
LOW SUGAR and STARCH HAY
Preferably tested to have a value of below 10% when combining ESC + STARCH. This will generally rule out the following hay which will not be suitable for feeding: Clover, Rye Grass, Oaten Hay, Wheaten Hay, Lucerne Hay.
Hays which *may* be suitable depending on Feed Test results: Rhodes, Native Grass, Teff*, Mixed Pasture* (these have been known to regularly test over the recommended 10% so please be aware). I find this is the biggest issue when trying to help laminitic horses.
Feed stores quite often supply unsuspecting purchasers' meadow hays (which are pure rye grass) or Teff Hay which has not been tested (but assured to be low ESC + starch) which turns out later to be tested way above the amounts that have been quoted. Another frustrating aspect of sourcing suitable hay is the client’s unwillingness to actually do the legwork. I would love to have a magic supplier or hay which I know is 100% suitable with a never ending supply of your choice of packaging of the hay but in reality, no-one is going to be able to provide that for you at this point in time so get off your butt and start investigating what is available and how you can make it work for your current situation!. Ask around – ask your farrier, ask your vet, ask your horse friends, check out marketplace and gumtree or get together with some friends and get a bulk load of TESTED hay. This is so difficult for many (I understand) but the right hay is out there please don’t just sit around waiting for it to turn up on your doorstep without some effort on your part.
If you provide a good quality tested hay and “your horse won’t eat it”, do not give in and offer alternatives! I’ve never seen a horse starve themselves with good hay in front of them.
Soaking hay – soaking for 1 hour in water may help remove up to 30% of the sugar content in hay which is the best course of action to take on untested hay no matter what the feed store has told you. Leave to drip dry in the shade before feeding out. HAY NETS will become your best friend so invest in a few. We use and recommend the Gutzbusta Range of hay nets.
If your horse has not used hay nets before, they will take a little time to adjust, however most do so very quickly. You may like to help them get the idea of this by pulling some hay out through the holes in clumps until they adjust. Weigh scale clips suitable for hay nets are also available and will take the guesswork out of working out the amount of hay to feed per 24-hour period.
REMOVE ALL PREPACKAGED HARD FEEDS IMMEDIATELY.
Replace with the following (please note this is not a balanced diet but is an emergency diet until hay analysis can be done). It will provide your horse with the immediate needs whilst ensuring the diet remains low in sugars/starches.
- MICROBEET/SPEEDIBEET (Soaked Beet Pulp) An excellent feed which is low in sugars/starches and soaks up easily in warm or cold water to which you can add the extra necessities of the emergency diet to. To reduce the iron content of the beet pulp, rinse and soak 2-3 times prior to the main soaking. You may need to use a kitchen sieve for this process. Soaking usually takes 5 mins in warm water and 10 minutes in cool water. Please note when weighing beet pulp this measurement is done as a dry weight (before soaking).
Add to this:
- Iodised Salt – 1-2 heaped tablespoons for a horse (approx. 500kgs)
- Magnesium Oxide – 3 grams per day for a horse (approx. 500kgs)
- Vitamin E – 2000iu per day for a horse (approx..500kgs).
- Linseed (ground fresh) – approx. 100 grams for a horse (approx. 500kgs) (Above is recommended by the ECIR GROUP) – however I usually recommend adding a good quality “basic” mineral mix (Copper & Zinc) to the above recommendation. If you have a full mineral profile on your hay, you may be able to tweak the above a little with help of a nutritionist familiar with laminitis as you move through into the recovery phase.
IODISED SALT – available from the supermarket as an emergency purchase or through stock feeds in larger quantities.
MAGNESIUM OXIDE – usually available from stock feeds.
VITAMIN E – best supplemented in the form of the Human Gel Caps (d-alpha Tocopherol)
LINSEEDS – available at stock feeds or in the supermarket. Use a coffee grinder to grind fresh at every meal.
Chances of the above diet being balanced are very slim – however remember this is an emergency situation and requires you to remove all supplements apart from those listed above to establish ground zero.
I’m sorry to say that if you cannot implement the DIAGNOSIS AND DIET for your laminitic pony or horse, then your trimmer or farrier is not going to be able to purely “trim out the laminitis”. This is a long-term plan that needs to be set up with your trimmer and will need to be adjusted depending on what they are seeing in the hooves at each visit. Initially, this may be every fortnight for a couple of cycles until they are happy with the progress. Let’s not underestimate the importance of having your hoof care provider very familiar with and trained in (and lots of experience) with laminitic hooves. To have these people in your corner is something you MUST cherish. Please help them help your horses by making a plan and sticking to it.
For specialist laminitic trimming (overgrown hooves, severely lame horses, horses that cannot stand for more than 30 seconds with a foot lifted etc etc) – expect the charges from your trimmer to be more per visit as there is usually more time taken (and sore backs for your trimmer) than a regular trim. This and the fact that the appointment will usually run longer discussing progress/housing/diets/exercise etc and they may be diverting off their usual run to see you more as needed. Your trimmer has no doubt been dealing with more than your case of laminitis throughout the peak seasons so please be mindful that they are probably a little run down as well from seeing old and new clients battling through laminitis season. (Yes, we do suffer from compassion fatigue!)
HOOF BOOTS WITH PADS
Necessary for the comfort of your horse and for moving your horse around when it comes time to start some hand walking/light exercise. There are many types available from specific therapy boots with thick pads to riding boots which can take a 20mm pad and be used later as a riding boot. We use and recommend the ranges supplied by Easycare Down Under and Hoof Boots Australia. These are not a "set and forget" system - they will need to be checked and cleaned daily if not twice daily.
HOOF CARE - YOUR PART - DAILY MAINTENANCE
Daily or twice daily hoof checks and cleanses will still need to be done - especially if your horse is in Hoof Boots 24/7 or a less than ideal environment (mud yards).
Our HOOF SPRAY (cleanser), HOOF PACK (to keep thrush at bay) and HOOF POWDER (absorb moisture and odours) combined into our "Thrush Care Package" is the ideal trio for this scenario.
Your trimmer or veterinarian will usually be able to consult with your when it's an appropriate time to start introducing light hand walking or light (non ridden!) exercise.
Please don’t think that the minute your horse starts to feel a bit better that it is time to get riding again.
It's going to be a long and sometimes rough ride - so buckle up, strap in and give it 100%.
"PAIN IS TEMPORARY, DEATH IS FOREVER"
**This article is not intended to replace Veterinary Advice. As discussed in the article, please get your veterinarian involved with any of the first signs or suspicion of Laminitis.