Everything you need to know about feeding for Laminitis

By: Louise Scott BSc (Hons) 

Laminitis is a very painful condition and is one of the most common causes of lameness in horses.

Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae, where the horse’s hoof pulls away from the wall. The laminae usually holds the pedal bone in place of the hoof, so as the laminae pulls away from the hoof wall, it can cause the pedal bone to rotate and point down towards the sole of the hoof.

Laminitis can be caused by various different things and managing the condition effectively depends on the trigger. Horses that develop laminitis through mechanical overload, a retained placenta or other non-dietary related causes should still continue to have their diet closely monitored because they could be susceptible in the future. An example of this is monitoring and preventing weight gain, which may cause their condition to worsen. Managing a horse with laminitis’ diet through a special, low sugar and low starch plan, is the easiest way to prevent a downward spiral.

Dietary laminitis is caused by an overload of carbohydrates, such as starch, fructan and glucose in the hindgut. This quantity of carbohydrates that escapes digestion in the small intestine causes rapid fermentation in the hindgut which leads to hindgut acidosis which, in turn, leads to laminitis developing.

Keyflow Feeds are suitable for animals at risk of laminitis, including Perfect Balance containing the basic vitamins and minerals that your horse needs; along with Pink Mash which offers a boost in antioxidants and probiotics supporting digestive health.

Studies have shown that horses and ponies with reduced insulin sensitivity were more susceptible to laminitis than those with higher sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance results in reduced sensitivity to insulin, under normal circumstances insulin initiates the uptake of glucose from the blood to stabilise the glucose levels in the blood. The reduced insulin sensitivity initially increases insulin production from the beta cells of the pancreas in order to elicit glucose uptake into the tissues, leading to hyperinsulinemia. Genetic predisposition, metabolic disorders, environmental factors such as diet, exercise and obesity are all factors which can contribute to the development of insulin resistance.

To manage all of these contributing factors the correct diet is essential. It is important that any horse at risk of developing or are already suffering with laminitis are put onto a low sugar, low starch diet. Grass is first and foremost the highest risk factor of laminitis due to its potentially high fructan content. This is especially important in spring and early autumn when there is more grass available, making it difficult to monitor how much sugar your horse is consuming. Spring grass can be higher in the sugar Fructan, a contributor to the development of laminitis that can be overlooked.

Horses pasture intake should be monitored by having limited turnout, using a grazing muzzle or by using strip grazing methods. This will ensure, especially in the spring period, that the horse does not overindulge on high sugar grasses and also makes it easier to control its weight. When feeding conserved forage such as hay to a horse or pony susceptible to laminitis it is recommended that it is tested to determine the non-structural carbohydrate content. A low non-structural carbohydrate content of less than 10% is required for those prone to laminitis. Hay testing is a service that Keyflow now offer to customers, once the results are ready a member of the Keyflow team will advise you on the nutritional content of the sample and the suitability to feed to a horse at risk of laminitis. If you are interested in having your hay analysed please get in touch using the contact details below.

In terms of feeding concentrates, low sugar, low starch and highly digestible feeds will be the most suitable for a horse suffering from laminitis. Cereals found in many concentrate feeds are high in starch, which, especially when fed in large concentrated meals, can encourage the rapid fermentation in the hindgut and cause hindgut acidosis. For this reason feeds high in cereal grains and molasses should be avoided.

Probiotics are a healthy addition for a horse with laminitis, as laminitis is characterised by a disruption in the bacteria population of the hind gut. A high quality probiotic will help to restore this balance and keep the digestive tract healthy. Most Keyflow® feeds are low in sugar and starch so would be well suited to a horse at risk of laminitis. Keyflow® feeds also have the additional benefit of Protexin, a probiotic which, is ideal for a horse with laminitis.

Steam extruded feeds are low in sugar and starch which is beneficial for all laminitics. Steam extrusion increases the digestibility of the feed in the small intestine from 40% to 90%, which helps to improve starch and sugar digestion in the hindgut. Keyflow® uses wet steam extrusion with all of our feeds, wet steam extrusion is preferable over dry steam extrusion as it retains the beneficial nutrients in the feed. Dry steam extrusion degrades these nutrients meaning the feed would have a poor nutritional profile, whereas wet steam extrusion retains the nutrient integrity.

If you would like any further assistance with feeding your laminitic horse or need any other feeding advice please contact our friendly support team on 01672 51 9000, or drop us an email at advice@keyflowfeeds.com and we will be happy to help.

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