5 Tips to Feeding Horses with Laminitis

Laminitis Horse in "Saw Horse" stance
Typical “Saw Horse” Stance for Horses with Laminitis

It is vital for Horses with laminitis to receive a balanced diet that fulfills their nutritional requirements. Fulfilling these nutritional needs not only benefits laminitis recovery but can also help prevent future bouts from developing. Additionally, your horse’s current diet could be the cause of its laminitic troubles. Below are five tips to feeding horses with laminitis.

1. Manage the Body Condition of your Horse

Obesity is one of the major contributing factors to the current rise of horses with laminitis in the United States.  In fact, mismanagement due to overfeeding idle horses causes 70-80% of these laminitic cases. Taking the necessary steps to maintain the correct body condition score can help in laminitis prevention and recovery. Horse owners can help reduce and maintain body weight by:

  • Providing regular exercise
  • Feeding a low starch forage balancer
  • Providing free choice hay
  • Monitoring grazing
  • Removing additional calories such as compound feeds or oats
  • Using grazing muzzles if needed
Overweight Horse
Overweight Horses are Prone to Bouts of Laminitis

Contrarily, Laminitic hard keepers may need additional calories to maintain body condition. Hard Keepers diagnosed with laminitis can be given:

  • Beet pulp
  • Vegetable oil
  • Oats
  • Copra
  • A combination of the above

2. Avoid Grain Overload

One primary cause of laminitis in horses occurs from undigested starch (carbohydrates) entering the caecum. This usually occurs due to grain overload or from grazing a pasture that has developed high sugar content grasses. The small intestinal tract can be presented with more carbohydrates than it can digest. When this occurs, the carbohydrates enter the hindgut, and the hindgut microbes begin to ferment these carbohydrates. The resulting toxic microbial fermentation products not only enter the bloodstream but are also detrimental to the microbial population itself. This creates a cascade of toxins that enter the bloodstream and damages the sensitive blood vessels within the hoof capsule.

Additionally, horses that tend to eat quickly are more likely to develop a digestive upset or carbohydrate overload. If the feed is not chewed adequately, the digestion-assisting saliva is not sufficiently mixed with the feed. Adding fist-sized rounded rocks to the feed bucket can help circumvent this unhealthy habit.

3. Limit Fructan Digestion from Forage

Pasture grasses recovering from frost or drought caused stress are most likely to produce excessive levels of fructans, or grass sugar. Likewise, cool seasoned grass that flourishes in the spring and fall will also have high levels of fructan.

Fructan is a complex sugar present in pasture grasses and cannot be digested and absorbed in the small intestine of the horse. The microbes in the hindgut ferment fructans into lactic acid. Fructan levels of the pastures vary throughout the day depending on:

  • Exposure of sunlight
  • Temperature
  • Moisture Levels
  • Grass Type

Ingestion of a large quantity of high fructan grasses can alter the hindgut environment leading to the death of vast numbers of beneficial microbes. This releases endotoxins that often trigger a laminitic episode or colic. Since photosynthesis from sunlight is necessary for fructan production, pasture fructan levels are highest in the afternoon and evening and are lowest in the mornings. Easy keepers and horses with laminitis are less likely to develop grass laminitis if they are only allowed pasture access in the early morning to early afternoon.

4. Horses with Laminitis Need to Chew

Horses with acute laminitis can often develop sore teeth. The teeth laminae become inflamed just as the laminae of the hooves. Consequently, the tooth pain often discourages proper chewing. Unchewed whole grains are less likely to be digested prior to reaching the microbes of the hindgut. We advise against feeding any concentrated feeds to a horse with acute laminitis. Feed up to the normal amount of hay free choice or divided into as many feedings as possible.

5. Provide Nutritional Support for Horses with Laminitis

Nutritional Support with the nutrients required for strong and dense growth of the hoof wall and sole may help reduce the time of laminitis recovery. For example, Long-term feeding of a quality hoof supplement may strengthen the cohesive bond between the hoof wall and the coffin bone. This strengthened bond may benefit acute cases of laminitis.

Hoof Supplementation

Proper hoof supplementation can help repair damage sustained during a laminitis/founder cycle. Many horses are fed rations deficient in the nutrients necessary to maintain and rebuild hoof health after suffering from laminitis and founder. Some hays are deficient in essential nutrients, especially those stored while wet, grown on nutrient deficient soils, harvested at a late stage of maturity, or have been stored for an extended period.

Recommended Hoof Supplement: Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength

Supplement for Horses with Laminitis

Horses with laminitis need a supplement that contains ingredients to support the liver such a lecithin and thyroid building nutrients such as tyrosine and iodine. Amino acids play an important role in re-building a hoof damaged by laminitis and founder.

Recommended Supplement for Laminitis: Life Data® Lamina Formula

Essential fatty acids and phospholipids are needed to build cell membranes and walls. Vitamin A is an important hoof-building vitamin. Calcium, copper, and zinc are important minerals for hoof strength. For these nutrients to be most effective they must be bioavailable (absorbable) and in the proper ratio/balance.

Supplements for Laminitis
Supplements for Laminitis

If your horse develops a case of laminitis contact your veterinarian and farrier immediately. Its important that horse owners treat every case of laminitis as an emergency. If you have any questions regarding feeding and supplementation for horses with laminitis contact us.