Laminitis in horses

Sadly, this amazing wet winter and Spring with all this lush growth is not good news for all. Ponies in particular are very prone to laminitis (also known as “founder”), and a season like we are having, is about as bad as it gets.

Laminitis; is an inflammatory condition that affects the feet of ponies and horses/donkeys,  and is caused by high levels of sugar in the green grass. The inflammation process begins mildly at first, and may just be seen as your pony sitting or lying down more often. It will then progress to constant weight shifting in the front feet, and then finally to extreme discomfort where the pony extends the front feet out forward to try and take weight off. The inflammation process can be very severe, and is driven by continued access the green grass with high sugar levels…..unfortunately, ponies just keep on eating and eating and make the problem worse and worse. Laminitis can get so severe that the attachments of the bones inside the hoof become damaged, and the bones literally separate  and collapse downwards – this will usually result in permanent and fatal changes, that end up requiring euthanasia – so naturally, we need to do everything we can to prevent this terrible disease.

If you pony has a history of laminitis – even it happened only once many years ago, you must assume the worst, especially this year with such amazing grass growth. Locking your pony up in a small yard and controlling feed intake is the first and most important step. Limit access to green grass to a maximum of one hour per day, first thing in the morning, when the sugar levels are at their lowest (grasses convert sugars to complex carbohydrates overnight). Then feed basic old pasture hay for the rest of the day – or chaff etc. They need a constant source of fibre/food, NOT just the green grass.

I also like to make sure they have a good quality mineral lick, to make sure the dietary restrictions don’t impact on their nutritional needs. If you are really stuck for finding a paddock with no feed (the “Jenny Craig” paddock), then you can also consider using a feeding muzzle, which stops the ponies from being able to eat the grass 24/7, and gives you control of when they can eat.

Step 2 in laminitis prevention is excellent hoof care – these ponies feet grow very quickly at this time of year, so you need regular farrier visits to ensure that the hoof is trimmed correctly, and maintains support to the frog (the soft wedge part of the sole of the hoof). Veterinary intervention to provide pain relief and advice, blood tests, xrays and advanced hoof care is often a sign that the disease has already progressed quite far, and is not always curable.

Laminitis is VERY painful, so you must take it seriously and provide expert care for these ponies. If you suspect your pony may be showing signs, there are simple blood tests that can confirm this, and corrective farrier work and dietary changes that can stop the disease- but PLEASE, act sooner, not later, as time is critical, and this year, it is definitely going to be a tough one, as we are already seeing many cases and the sun is hardly shining yet.

Dr Bruce Syme.

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