It can be hard to manage the horse or pony prone to laminitis. Managing these good-doers, and preventing laminitis, involves being in control of every aspect of a horse or pony’s diet and exercise regime.
Forage intake for laminitis-prone horses
Overweight or laminitis-prone equines should never be starved as this can cause further metabolic complications. Forage intake must not fall below the equivalent of one percent of the horse’s body weight per day and, for those on a strict diet, will need to be weighed.
Although haylage may have a lower overall sugar content than hay, it is generally higher in calories so is best avoided for good-doers. To further reduce calorie content, hay should be soaked for several hours to leach nutrients out.
Using small-holed hay nets and/or a net within a net will help a small amount of hay last longer which is advantageous since lengthy periods without forage should be avoided as this risks gastric and hindgut ulcers or other digestive upsets.
Remember the importance of exercise in avoiding weight-gain or encouraging weight-loss. Even “pet ponies” can be kept on the move by having to walk round their box/paddock for forage by tying several small nets in different places.
Alternative forage sources include low calorie chaffs, some of which have a lower calorie content than average hay and which can be fed in larger quantities to add variety to the good-doer’s diet. “Fortified” chaffs, which contain vitamins and minerals, can replace both the forage and bucket feeds but must be fed at recommended levels in order to provide a fully balanced diet.
Whether overweight or not, a laminitis susceptible equine’s access to pasture should be carefully managed. High levels of fructan, a storage carbohydrate produced from excess sugar, are dangerous to laminitis prone horses. Fructan content of grass varies according to light intensity, temperature and stage of growth.
On sunny frosty mornings, when the temperature is too cool for grass to grow but the sunlight encourages photosynthesis, high levels of fructan are produced. Therefore turn out at this time should be avoided.
Current recommendations suggest that the safest time to turn out is from late evening until mid morning, as there is not much sunlight on the grass during this time, and therefore not much fructan is produced.
Aside from fructan levels, whilst grass provides essential fibre, it is also a calorific forage and intake may need managing simply to avoid weight-gain. Options range from strip grazing, to maintaining nearly “bald” paddocks (electric fencing) to grazing muzzles.
For the laminitic, the emphasis is on limiting starch intake which means avoiding cereals. This should not be at the expense of other essential nutrients however, which are best provided by a balancer. These supply protein, vitamins and minerals to support hoof growth, health and well-being, without the calories associated with a mix or cube.
It is also worth considering feeding a supplement containing pre and post biotics to support gut health; this is of paramount importance to the laminitic as bacterial populations in the hindgut are compromised during an attack.