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Laminitis - The condition, symptoms and treatment
Laminitis affects so many horses and ponies that it is now the most researched aspect of lameness worldwide. This research continues to explain why certain horses and ponies do not respond to correct dietary management alone and also tells us more about how we should manage susceptible horses and ponies.
Is there a cure for laminitis in horses?
Most horses and ponies can recover from laminitis but the extent of their recovery depends on many factors including how severe the problem was when it was first spotted, and how soon treatment commences. The very mildest (sub-clinical) nutritionally-triggered, cases can often be nipped in the bud by changes in management, notably feeding. Clinical cases need the urgent attention of a vet. Acting quickly and using the combined skills of a vet, farrier and nutritionist lays the foundation for the most successful recoveries.
What is Laminitis?
Laminitis is a disease of the foot that can vary in severity from the merest hint of lameness to a situation described as 'sinking', which can be fatal.
As laminitis develops the attachment of the pedal bone to the hoof wall starts to fail, leaving the pedal bone to rotate and point towards the sole, and in the worst cases to sink right through it.
International research has made it abundantly clear that laminitis is multi-factorial, that means there is normally more than one factor involved before a pony is 'tipped over' into laminitis. It may be helpful to think of a threshold over which laminitis is triggered. A pony may have trotted too fast down a rough, stony track causing mechanical damage; this will raise his 'at risk' line towards the threshold. He may also be genetically predisposed to insulin resistance; this will raise his 'at risk' line further. Finally he may have access to too much highsugar grass and suddenly his 'at risk' line is pushed over the threshold and he goes down with laminitis.
When we think about the nutritional causes of laminitis our first thought is to an overload of carbohydrate (mainly starch) into the hindgut. Over the years a huge amount of research has built up to demonstrate the consequences of such an overload on firstly the microbial balance in the hindgut and ultimately the weakening of the support given to the pedal bone in the foot by the laminae.
More recently researchers have demonstrated that obesity not only adds to the mechanical weight that the laminae have to support but also has a direct negative effect through the hormonal activities of the fat cells within fatty tissue, especially around the stomach (omental) and in the crest.
However the latest research points to an even greater role for nutrition because it has long been known that increasing amounts of glucose entering the bloodstream from the small intestine, that is before the hindgut, cause a rise in the level of insulin. The most recent research shows that high levels of insulin in the blood directly precipitate laminitis.
Adding all this research together means that not only must we be careful not to feed horses prone to, being treated for or recovering from laminitis a diet that could lead to a carbohydrate overload in the hindgut, for example one containing too much starch, but we must also be careful to avoid feeding a diet providing too much sugar in the form of, for example, molasses. Whereas we used to consider that because molasses had a high glycaemic index, that is it was virtually all digested in the small intestine and absorbed through the intestinal walls, it did not reach the hindgut unless fed in excessive amounts and therefore did not pose a major risk. It is now evident that sugar levels in the diet need to be minimised in order to avoid a rise in insulin levels.
It is really important to remember that laminitis is a multi-factorial problem and that even if your horse or pony has laminitis caused by a non-nutritional factor, for example Cushing's disease or traumatic injury, it is very important to minimise adding to the factors that could trigger or worsen the laminitis. In other words, whatever the cause, it is important to feed a low sugar, low starch, high fibre diet, with calorie intake controlled when necessary.
Products for laminitis nutritional support
AntiLam is a pelleted multi-supplement designed to provide nutritional support for those prone to, being treated for, or recovering from laminitis. AntiLam is used and recommended by nutritionists, vets and farriers.
AntiLam is a brilliant formulation combining several supplements with a high-fibre, very low-calorie carrier to make it palatable. Long-term trials at Middle Park Laminitis Research Unit have shown that horses and ponies on restricted/poor grazing do not gain any weight when fed AntiLam. It can also be used very successfully as part of a calorie-controlled diet when weight loss is required.
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