Horse nutrition and feeding information and advice

General Feeding Articles by Zoe Davies

 

Contents

1.  Feed Related Allergies

2. Feeding lactating mares updated

3. Winter feeding horses and ponies at grass

4. Understanding feed balancers 

5. Feeding Foals including orphans

6. Laminitis Update May 2014!! 

 

 

1. Feed Related Allergies

February 2010 

Food intolerances and allergies are becoming increasingly common in the human population and there are numerous articles in the press regarding what you should and shouldn’t eat!  Food intolerance appears to cause more irritating long-term symptoms whereas some food allergies are extremely dangerous. Severe food allergies can cause anaphylactic shock and people suffering from them have to be extremely careful what they eat. Luckily this type of catastrophic food allergy does not seem to exist in the horse; in fact researchers have found that true feed related allergies in horses are relatively rare compared to those in the human population. 

Different types of allergies that occur in horses include:

Respiratory – inhaled allergen - COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease e.g. fungal spores), PIPD (pasture induced pulmonary disease e.g. pollen)

Pharmaceutical – injected/ingested drug reaction

Contact – skin contact with allergen

Feed – ingested allergen

This article is aimed at the true food related allergies.

In practice though allergic reactions to foods in horses and ponies are fairly common. These reactions can make horses quite subdued and depressed and horses may be generally off colour for several weeks. These reactions to food do not generally need immediate veterinary attention and should not be confused with inhaled acute respiratory allergies or pharmaceutical drug reactions particularly of rapid onset that do need immediate veterinary treatment.

Many horses and ponies will have the odd allergic reaction to food but occasionally some horses will develop regular recurrences of the condition and these can become quite problematical.

Symptoms of feed allergies are extremely inconsistent, varying from the soft, typical urticarial type swellings (hives) just under the skin to small hard bumps or papules. The swellings or lumps may be very itchy (known as pruritis) or not itchy at all. When horses are really itchy they may rub themselves raw. Alopecia or bald patches may also follow resulting in significant unsightly hair loss. Fluid from these soft lumps may also eventually drain downwards underneath the skin resulting in large swellings between the front legs or under the belly, which may take several days to clear. Allergies may be localised or cover the whole body or significant parts of it. Most horses suffering from allergies do not develop a temperature, but it is important to note that occasionally some viral infections may also result in similar lumps appearing.

To confuse the matter further many of these symptoms may be caused by other skin conditions such as mites, fungal infections, rain scald, bacterial inflammation of the hair follicles, allergic reactions to insect bites or contact allergies.  

Loose droppings may also imply a feed allergy with gastrointestinal allergic symptoms such as gastroenteritis although this is less common.

Allergic reactions or hypersensitivities are a result of the horse becoming sensitised to at least one antigen. To cause a true feed allergy, the antigen must actually pass through the barrier of the digestive tract i.e. from the ingested food so that the white blood cells of the horses’ immune system are exposed to it. Most of the time the digestive tract works well to prevent this happening. Recent research suggests that substances known as glycoproteins present in many fresh and prepared feeds and supplements may act as a base for these antigens. However researchers do not know which part of the glycoprotein or even which glycoprotein is causing the problem! Allergic hives are often called protein bumps, but it is not the amount of protein causing the problem, rather it is a single protein (glycoprotein) or allergen, which causes the hypersensitivity reaction in the horse. These proteins are often found within cereals particularly barley or wheat but may be found in other foods also. 

Implicated foods

Wheat and wheat by-products

Oats and oat by-products

Barley and barley by-products

Soya meal

Cubes/pellets

Coarse mixes

Supplements on cereal carriers

Some pasture plants and therefore hay/haylage, chaff


Once the allergen is recognised by the horses’ bodies’ immune system, a chain or cascade of events occurs at the cellular level. The allergic reaction that follows is an inappropriate response by the immune system to the perceived threat of the allergen and the immune system becomes hypersensitised. The chain of events results in mast cells within the skin releasing histamine and this produces the typical symptoms seen.

Once the horses body has been primed with antibodies which have been produced to fight the perceived threat of the allergen, then whenever this is next encountered, the body will react in the same way, i.e. the immune system will be activated and the allergic cascade begins.

Horses may be genetically primed i.e. inherit a sensitivity such as seen with sweet itch. This is known as atopic or it may be acquired over a period of time and this is called non atopic.

Following a suspected feed causing an allergic reaction in the horse, it is important to take a full history of everything the horse has eaten and note whether there have been any recent changes to the diet. Has the horse recently been vaccinated or wormed? Has the source of forage been changed? Is the horse being treated with pharmaceutical drugs? Also it is important to check it is not a contact allergy. A typical example of this occurs where horses are only showing lumps or bumps in the areas of contact for example outside of the rug. This is often seen with contact allergies to bedding or where horses have lay down on pasture containing plants which may cause allergies in sensitised horses. This gives a clue as to the cause is it feed related or a contact allergy?

Diagnosis

Horses with repeated allergic reactions may benefit from intradermal (into the skin) allergen testing although this has variable results with false positives and negatives. In severe cases though it could be an option.

Hair analysis does not appear reliable and the RAST radioallergosorbent test appears more reliable for humans present. These tests for horses should be standardised for equines not humans. You don’t; want to know that your horse is allergic to chocolate and egg whites for example!

There is an also a new equine ELIZA blood test (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay). Once the allergen/s is identified horses may be offered immunotherapy treatment or desensitisation. Some horses respond very quickly to this treatment whereas others may take several months in all cases horses often require further injections throughout their life as this does not cure the problem; it simply reduces the level of sensitisation.

Horses with recurrent feed allergy problems should be placed on an elimination diet to try and determine the source of the problem. This is not easy particularly for horses in hard work, but often it this is the only option left. 

Elimination Diet

Feed grass hay or alfalfa mix to appetite within reason for 4 weeks. A single grass hay such as timothy or ryegrass is preferred

If out,  pasture alone but again this could be the cause, but if so you will soon find out

Maintain pure salt supply – forage is often low in sodium therefore salt should be supplemented

After 1 month introduce one straight cereal such as oats, just a small amount for 2 weeks and see if there is a reaction

After 2 weeks add a small amount of barley and so on until you find the culprit feed.

Introduce a multivitamin/mineral on a limestone or liquid base i.e. not containing a cereal carrier. 


Many horses and ponies in light work are fed cool mixes or cubes but these more often than not contain barley or other cereal products, again ask the manufacturer. Grass pellets and unmolassed beet pulp are often a good choice being a single ingredient, however occasionally they may be the cause! If the horse is allergic to a specific feed ingredient this elimination diet should result in improvement of symptoms within four weeks. Of course it is important to note that horses may be and are often allergic to more than one allergen!

Once the offending ingredient has been found the horse may be returned to other compound feeds not containing it. Feed companies and supplement manufacturers should supply a full list of ingredients enabling the correct choice of feed to be made, this is really important. If they will not supply this information you should look elsewhere.

Immediate veterinary treatment usually consists of antihistamines and glucocorticoid therapy although these are not useful in the long term and the elimination diet is probably the best route even though it is time consuming.

Food Intolerance

These are common in people but not in horses, probably because the number of different foods available to horses is extremely small compared to our average diet!

Food intolerances are sensitivities to certain foods and are not allergic responses in that they do not affect the immune system. Behavioural problems in children commonly associated with food additives are also not relevant to horses. Toxicity from mycotoxins in feed however, may cause a kind of food intolerance in horses. Mycotoxins are invisible poisons which can persist in feed and hay even when the moulds that produced them are no longer present. Most good feed manufacturers will screen for these in feed. Certainly mouldy feed/hay should be avoided at all times. Mycotoxins can be harmful to horses producing minor symptoms such as loss of appetite to severe symptoms such as paralysis or death. There is currently a huge recall of feed in the USA, which is thought to be contaminated with the very harmful mycotoxin called Aflatoxin. This is thought to have been found in a single ingredient used to make up the feed. This may be classified as intolerance to feed but again it is not classified as an allergic reaction. 

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2. Feeding the lactating mare  

By Zoe Davies MSc.Eq.S.,R.Nutr.

Lactation is a period of significant physiological stress for mares. The nutrient needs of the lactating mare are greater than any other, except perhaps the racehorse in peak training. Add to this a possible new pregnancy as lactating mares are rebred and the likely effects of nutritional stress become abundantly clear.

    The lactating mare has increased requirements for many nutrients and a deficiency in any minerals for example will cause the mare to use up her own stores causing possible deficiencies in the mare and foal and problems with rebreeding. 

    It is vital to keep mares in good condition prior to foaling and through lactation. Research has shown that underfeeding a mare could extend gestation by up to ten days. In addition, mares with a condition score (CS) of 5 or greater have better fertility for rebreeding. The energy status of mares is therefore  important for breeding. Mares going into the breeding season in a moderate body condition  (CS 5/6) required fewer cycles for conception and had higher conception rates than thinner mares (CS 4 or less). Mares foals in thin condition tend to remain thin through lactation and have a longer period from birth to the second oestrus period. Mares in better condition also ovulated sooner than mares with a CS of less than 5. It also appears that keeping mares at a higher CS of 7/8 did not impair or improve reproductive performance.

     A 550kg lactating mare may produce an astonishing 11-14kg milk per day for the first three months. This amount will decrease to about 8kg per day by 5 months. This equates to about 450 gallons over a 150-day period. This is obviously a huge metabolic effort by the mare and graphically explains the importance of meeting her nutrient requirements during this time. Mare's milk is also rich in protein and fat and therefore the mare's diet must also have more protein and energy to meet these increased needs.

It is important to choose a good quality concentrate stud feed/balancer from a reputable manufacturer as well-balanced nutrient formulations will contain higher levels of nutrients in their most bio-available forms. For example, different carriers of the same mineral can be absorbed and utilised at significantly different levels. Some forms of minerals are much more easily used within the mare’s body than others while others are very poorly absorbed. 

When lactating mares are fed concentrates based upon fat/oil and fibre (low starch rations) as compared to higher starch based concentrates such as stud mixes, milk composition is affected in ways that help to improve the health of suckling foals. Levels of the important essential fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in milk are increased and this in turn may lead to a reduction in gastric ulcers in foals. Higher colostrum levels of IgG are also found and colostrum is vital for immunity of the foal. Mares fed on fibre and fat based diets should also be given a good low starch stud balancer which contains all the quality amino acids, vitamins and minerals to meet requirements. 

A good choice of oil is linseed or flaxseed oil.  Linseed oil is the same as common flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum) and is a rich source of ALA which is also thought to be beneficial for fertility.

     Lactation typically lasts about six months due to varying management factors such as time of weaning. During the first three months of lactation, mares certainly need individual attention. Overweight or “good-doers” will need a different approach to feeding than the underweight mare. Some mares sail through lactation with little if any loss of condition whereas others may lose a significant amount of weight. If mares lose weight during early lactation or mares are underweight at foaling, then the time for rebreeding may be lengthened and conception rates may be lower, as discussed earlier. These mares may need a higher energy stud cube preferably with lower starch levels than a stud coarse or cereal mix. Oil and fibre may not provide enough calories for some of these mares, during early lactation particularly where pasture or forage quality/quantity is not sufficient.  

On the other hand, most lactating mares will hold their condition well on top quality forage/pasture and a low calorie stud balancer only. The levels of all nutrients required increases in early lactation. All these will be provided if the chosen stud feed is fed at the recommended quantities. If not then nutrient intake may be compromised. If the correct levels of stud formulated feed is being fed, there is absolutely no need for an additional pasture mineral block.

      It goes without saying that all lactating mares will drink large amounts of water and clean fresh water must be available to them at all times. A free choice salt lick is also beneficial. Pasture should be analysed to look for any mineral deficiencies.

       Over the last three months of lactation daily requirements start to decline significantly. Although the volume of milk remains much the same, the nutrient density, particularly energy, decreases substantially. By month 4 mare’s milk will provide less than 30% of the total energy needs of the foal, which should now be eating well on its own. Concentrates can therefore be reduced by roughly fifty per cent at around three months. Foals should be eating well, preferably a low starch balanced creep feed or balancer to prepare them for weaning.

Research showed that lactating mares were less stressed at weaning when fed an oil and fibre based diet compared to high cereal starch feeds. It makes sense therefore  to prepare mares for weaning by feeding plenty of top quality forage, with alfalfa/beet pulp and oil with a stud balancer supplying vitamins, minerals and quality amino acids.

Throughout lactation the mare’s bodyweight should be monitored closely and minor adjustments to the concentrate ration made as and when required to maintain the mare in  optimum condition.  This will help mares maintain their health and breeding performance.

 

Updated sept 2012 

                                                                      

 

3.Winter Feeding Horses at grass

February 2010 

Forage is vital for horses but unfortunately the nutritional quality of forage in pasture varies tremendously throughout the year, from very good (or too good) in spring and summer to poor in winter. As the cold winter nights draw in and the temperature falls, pasture stops growing and eventually (if cold enough) becomes dormant. This pasture may look green and plentiful but actually contains indigestible woody fibre and fewer vitamins with a much-reduced feed value. This also means that the horses’ energy intake from pasture falls and they can consequently lose weight quickly, as more dietary energy is needed just to maintain body temperature. In general, it is a good idea to plan ahead and begin offering smaller quantities of hard feed and conserved forage such as hay or haylage in late autumn, so that the digestive system adapts, minimizing the risk of digestive upsets and colic.

Fortunately there are however, ways we can provide extra calories and this is by feeding  concentrates which will also provide much needed amino acids, minerals and particularly vitamins that may be lacking in winter pasture and hay or haylage.

The choice of hard feed will depend upon the factors such as;

Condition of the horse or pony 

Workload

Age  - stage of breeding cycle or veteran horses and ponies

If more calories are required a higher energy compound feed and/or oil may be fed. This includes underweight horses and ponies, breeding stock and working horses, which will need additional higher energy hard feed or concentrates to help them gain or maintain condition.

For horses and ponies in optimum condition going into winter, either a good balancer alongside free choice forage or or a low starch cube and free choice forage is preferred if horses need extra calories.

The choice for very good doers and overweight types, would be a low calorie balancer which will provide the vitamins and minerals required over winter.

It is important to remember that hay, haylage and concentrates etc., all contain less water than fresh grass and so horses in the cold winter months will need to drink more. This is important if impaction colic is to be avoided.  As water temperature falls horses drink less and so if possible, hot water should be added to take the chill off drinking water. A salt block is important as forage can be low in salt and this should be made freely available if more salt is required.

To summarise choose a feed that suits your horses needs to maintain condition and health over the winter months.

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4. Understanding Feed Balancers - May 2012

Feed Balancers have been around for several years now and most of the major feed companies will have at least one if not a whole range of balancers in their feed range. However there are many horse-owners who don’t really understand these balancers and whether they should feed them or not. This article will explain what they are and how they are such a great addition to our tools for feeding horses.

Historically the first balancers to hit the market about twenty years ago were the oat balancers. These were balancers formulated to be fed with oats (or other straight cereals) to balance the deficiencies of straights. Oat balancers still exist mainly for racehorse trainers that feed oats as the basis of their hard feed.

The new balancers however are formulated to be forage balancers i.e. to be fed alongside pasture and/hay or haylage.

Balancers are low calorie, highly nutrient dense feeds more like supplements than normal compound feeds and usually (but not always) have balancer in the name! You might see Stud balancer, Feed balancer, Ultimate balancer, Performance balancer, but then again other very good balancers may not mention balancer at all e.g. Opti-Gro and Lo-Cal, etc! This does make them confusing. There are easy ways to check if a feed is a balancer or not from the label/bag and I will discuss these later.

Balancers are excellent feeds and I recommend them all the time.

One of the first balancers to hit market in the UK was a stud balancer. It was formulated to be fed to breeding stock with pasture. This was because pasture is often deficient in micro-minerals such as copper and zinc and the balancer was fed in very small quantities to add a range of micronutrients and quality amino acids to the diets of grazing broodmares and youngstock. The pasture particularly in the summer provides all the calories to maintain condition. Since then many forage balancers have become available.  Unless you analyse your pasture and/or hay or haylage for micronutrients you cannot know whether or not a mineral deficiency is present. Feeding a balancer provides these micronutrients in a very small quantity of feed, i.e. it is more of an insurance policy. If summer grazing is good the balancer can be fed at half the recommended rate.

The benefits of feeding balancers are as follows

  1. Nutrient dense - providing high levels of nutrients in very small quantities, usually 0.5 to 1.0kg per day. Ideal for good doers, horses on box rest, horses on low starch/rations, veterans, in fact any horse or pony in good condition that is not working hard!
  2. Economical to feed - Although the price per bag seems expensive, if you work out the daily cost of feeding 0.5kg per day for example compared to other mainstream horse feeds, balancers are really economical (some more than others!). Some balancers cost only pence to fed per day.
  3. Highly versatile feed, can be the base of any feeding programme with forage. If feeding forage based high fibre natural feeds such as chaffs, beet pulp, oil etc, balancers will provide the necessary micronutrients.
  4. Small quantities do not upset the horses stomach. They are low starch feeds also and so ideal for horses that are on low starch/sugar rations.


To give an example of the economics of balancers look at the following example.

25kg Opti-Gro - costs approx. £14-£18 per 25kg bag 

Fed at 1kg per day

£14 for 25 days

£0.56p per day!!

£18 for 25 days

£0.72p per day!!


This is a nutrient dense feed allowing the forage to provide calories to meet requirements and the balancer to add micronutrients.

Some balancers are more expensive than this for smaller bags i.e. 15kg or 20kg bags. Check the price for the weight of bag and work out from daily feeding recommendations how much it will cost to feed the balancer per day, the same as above!


How do you recognise Balancers?

Firstly balancers have higher protein levels. This puts many horseowners off! However it is not the % protein per day we are feeding but the grams of protein per day that matters. Look at the following example.





Feeding 1 kg per day of a 32% protein balancer = 320g protein per day

Feeding 2kg per day of a 16% protein stud feed = 320g protein per day

Feeding 4kg per day of an 8% protein cool cube =  320g protein per day


By the way excess protein does not cause laminitis, this is a very popular myth!


Secondly, balancers are fed in much smaller amounts that normal compound feeds so check the feeding instructions on the bag. Most balancers are fed at the rate of 0.5-1.0kg per day for none breeding horses and ponies. If you are not sure contact the feeding manufacturer to clarify.


Balancers are ideal feeds. We unfortunately have traditionally fed literally bucketfuls of hard feed to horses (chaff or no chaff!) and this is not good for their digestive systems. 

Feeding balancers generally leads to a more natural forage based ration for horses and they are ideal for the majority of horses and ponies that are not working hard or need extra calories for work/lactation. The high nutrient density supplies concentrated nutrients that may be lacking in the forage and is a highly economical method of feeding despite the higher price per bag (see earlier).

A word of warning however, because Balancers are generally so nutrient dense, they MUST not be overfed. They also should not be fed with feed blocks/licks. The recommended quantities are maximum daily amounts and balancers should not be adjusted according to condition, this is a fixed daily amount. Balancers also should not be mixed with other compound feeds unless those feeds are fed at much reduced rates. 

Hopefully this article will have dispelled the myths surrounding balancers and shown horseowners what a great addition to the feed room they are.

 

© Copyright - All articles provided by this website remain the sole copyright of the author and should not be copied or altered in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise.  

 

5. Feeding the Foal

By Zoe Davies MSc.,R.Nutr.

Foals grow at extremely fast rates particularly during the first six months of life.

The greatest growth in the horses’ life cycle occurs from birth to weaning. Most healthy foals grow from 10% of their mature bodyweight at birth to 50% at weaning. Daily gains of over 1kg during the suckling phase until weaning at 6 months are very common. 

Thus, a foal expected to reach 500Kg at maturity would be expected to weigh in at approximately 50Kg birth weight and increase to around 250Kg at 6 months, a gain of 200Kg. This is a phenomenal rate of growth! Obviously several environmental and management factors interact, such as health of the foal, quantity of milk consumed, nutrient levels in pasture and concentrate feed.

Although this high level of growth is required for early maturity in some breeds such as the thoroughbred, it may bring with it growth related problems, namely DOD (Developmental Orthopaedic Disease). DOD has become a major problem and includes many conditions such as osteochondrosis, angular limb deformity, physitis (epiphysitis) and joint distensions, subchondral bone cysts, acquired flexural deformities and wobbler syndrome. Perhaps one of the most common manifestations of DOD is epiphysitis; swelling of the growth plates. This is usually seen in the fetlocks of foals at 4-5months and in the knees of yearlings.

There are a number of causes of DOD including genetic factors, rapid growth (either from a genetic tendency or through environmental factors), hormonal changes, trauma and nutrition. However, the only aspects that may be manipulated are diet and management.

It is critical therefore, that early nutrition is evaluated and meets the need of the individual foal’s growth rate and environment.

Once born, the foal is dependent upon the dams milk supply during the first few weeks of life.  Milk is the main source of nutrition until the foal reaches 4-5 months of age.

Foals are born with a monogastric digestive tract (similar to humans) and do not have the capacity at this stage to digest forage. This develops over the next 3-6 months. Research has shown that mares produce milk at the rate of approximately 3-4% of their bodyweight for the first twelve weeks of lactation and this then falls to 2% until weaning. Mares’ milk has also been the subject of considerable investigation and has been found to contain low levels of certain minerals such as copper and zinc, which are important for bone growth and development. If pasture is also low in these minerals, then the foal will rapidly use up its own body reserves during this vital growth phase and will need supplementary feeding with a good stud balancer.

Feeding Orphan Foals

This can be a challenging time, particularly when the foal loses its dam at birth or the dam is unwilling to feed the foal.

A good foster mare is the ideal solution but this is not always possible. Luckily, there are numerous mares milk replacers available, which have been used with satisfactory results. Mare’s milk replacer is produced as a powder and this must be then mixed with water ready for use. Cow’s milk may also be used if mixed with skimmed milk half and half as cow’s milk alone is too rich. Some calf milk replacers may be used if they contain around 15% fat and 20% protein. Whichever is chosen, the manufacturer’s instructions as per mixing should be followed accurately.

The initial concern with a newly orphaned foal from birth is that it receives colostrum, as this offers some protection from disease. Ideally the foal should be given 250ml colostrum hourly for six hours after birth. The foal should then have its antibody status checked at 12-36 hours to check that passive transfer has occurred, i.e. an antibody concentration of IgG 300-800 mg/dl is achieved.

If the foal has not received enough colostrum, it may be given a blood plasma transfer, intravenously, by the attending vet.

If a foster mare is not available, then the foal will need hand rearing by bottle.  Milk should be given at a rate of 10% of the foal’s weight at 1 day of age and increased to 25% of the foal’s weight from 10 days to weaning.

During their first week, the foals should be bottle fed every 1-2 hours and then every 4-6 hours from the second week.

A lamb’s teat is preferred to a calf teat to allow small regular feeds. It has been shown that smaller, more frequent feeds will produce a more even growth rate. Also a smaller number of larger feeds are more likely to result in diarrhoea.

Cleanliness is vital and used bottles should be washed and sterilised. 

Foals should then begin eating solid food within a few weeks and this will reduce the amount of milk required.

Once eating solid food, foals can be given feed specially formulated for young foals which are milk based but contain added vitamins, minerals and quality protein to support rapid growth. Milk pellets can also be given but solid food needs to be introduced slowly. Foals should also be fed top quality highly digestible forage; inclusion of alfalfa chaff is also beneficial as they get older. Before the foal is fed hard feed and forage alone, it must be able to drink water preferably from a bucket or automatic drinker.

As previously discussed. The rapid growth rates of foal’s leads to increases in bodyweight which in turn increases their requirements for nutrients. This occurs at the same time the dam’s milk production starts to drop off.  It is obvious therefore that the foal will then need another source of nutrition to enable it to maintain growth at this rate. Older foals will be able to receive significant amounts of energy and protein from high quality pasture and or hay. A supplemental stud creep feed or balancer will ensure these foals receive not only quality protein, but also essential micronutrients, especially minerals which may be lacking in the pasture. If calorie intake is high from spring/summer grass then the creep feed should be a low energy/high micronutrient type e.g.stud balancer, or even a mineral drench for overtopped heavy foals.

Creep Feeding

Most studs use creep feeding as a part of their management systems. Creep feeding serves several purposes including

   

  1. To encourage the foal to eat concentrates as early as possible to develop the digestive tract
  2. Creep feeding encourages the foal to become independent of the dam. They become used to eating on their own, making future separation easier.
  3. To help prevent deficiencies occurring when milk is low in certain nutrients and the pasture may also have imbalances.
  4. As the foal meets more of its nutritional requirements from the creep feed, the mare will cut back on her own milk production. This will reduce the stress of lactation and is particularly useful if she is back in foal.
  5. Some mares are incapable of producing enough milk and this may restrict the foal’s growth. Providing a creep feed will help to provide these foals with the nutrients, they need to continue growing.
  6. On the other hand, some mares are excellent milkers and may push their offspring into overtopped foals with growth related problems. If these foals are creep fed with a lower energy stud balancer as a creep feed, it is much easier to wean them early if necessary.

The amount of creep feed should be followed as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Protein has not been shown to be implicated in problems associated with DOD, this is a common myth. Owners of youngstock should be more concerned with ensuring energy is not overfed and that optimal quality protein, vitamin and mineral intake is ensured.

It is important that foals are fed a creep feed formulated specifically for them and not simply allowed access to their dams feed.  Foals require, relatively low energy, high quality protein 16-18% and fully fortified with available micronutrients.

 If a foal is growing at a faster rate, such as the larger, precocious foal, then it will need more micronutrients (not less!), to support the more rapid rate of growth. Smaller, foals may be fed less, as their growth rates are slower. There is an optimum growth rate for the individual foal. This individual growth should be supported by a balanced ration for that foal. 

To summarize, foals grow at a phenomenal rate and to prevent growth related problems, creep feeding is often essential. Monitoring of the individuals growth pattern and adapting the feed to suit the individual foal will reap rewards as the foal will develop a strong and healthy musculoskeletal system. Correct choice of creep feed is also essential and the use of low energy stud balancers for overtopped foals is highly recommended. 

 

Sept 2102 

 

 

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6. Laminitis Update May 2014!!! 

 

Its that time of year again, when spring pasture starts growing and sugar levels increase together with laminitis risk. There is plenty of research ongoing into this potentially devastating disease  providing more information concerning improved management techniques. 
One thing is for certain, this is not a “simple” disease.
Naturally, feral horses will eat more in times of plenty in spring and summer to put on weight and provide fuel stores for winter when food is naturally harder to find. Over winter they will use up their fat stores and then the cycle repeats from the following spring. This natural correction does not occur in domesticated horses and ponies as they are fed in winter and in fact often fed right through the year!

Laminitis is not a new disease, it has been around for about 2000 years. Aristotle referred to a disease caused by high intakes of cereal known as barley disease. In 2013 we still have no definitive answer as to the cause, but it appears we are getting closer.
It is now thought to be largely an endocrine (hormonal) problem which gives a predisposition to laminitis when high levels of water soluble carbohydrates are ingested, such as spring pasture and cereal grains. There also appears to be a genetic link and research from a herd of dartmoor ponies over several generations supported this.

It is known that many ponies suffering from laminitis are less sensitive to the hormone Insulin i.e. they are insulin resistant (IR). IR is characterised by high levels of circulating insulin or abnormal glucose and insulin responses to an oral or IV glucose and/or insulin challenge (i.e. test undertaken by the vet). Many mares with IR also maintain oestrus cycles throughout the year or well into winter, when they should stop. Horses with IR also have higher levels of inflammatory markers in association with obesity and these may play a role in the development of laminitis.

Pastures at certain times of year contain high levels of WSC resulting in peaks of blood sugar and consequently insulin, in horses and ponies grazing these pastures. A trial using dartmoor and welsh ponies showed that grazing IR ponies were associated with a higher risk of developing laminitis, this explains why only one or two ponies grazing the same pasture will develop the disease, not all.
Obese ponies with chronic IR are increasingly likely to succumb eventually if they are left to graze unrestricted on high WSC (water soluble carbohydrate) pastures or are fed high starch cereal feeds (including many cool or low energy coarse mixes and cubes). This incidentally also applies to other causes of laminitis so endotoxaemia episodes or treatment with corticosteroids are more likely to result in laminitis if the horse or pony has IR and has suffered with it for a long time.
The association between obesity, IR and laminitis is confirmed. It is known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). EMS is a clinical syndrome which encompasses all of the above as they are inextricably linked and is similar in parts to metabolic syndrome in humans (Diabetes Type 2 development). Ponies with EMS are likely to show general obesity or regional obesity (cresty neck for example), IR and a predisposition to laminitis. Horses and ponies with PPID or cushings  often show symptoms of IR and laminitis although they are usually older. It is prudent therefore to test older ponies for both PPID and EMS/IR.
Anecdotally dartmoor, welsh and shetland ponies appear to be more susceptible to EMS as do morgans, arabs and warmbloods.
A seasonal pattern certainly exists for laminitis with the highest incidence around May and June associated with high levels of sugars in pasture. There is a smaller surge in growth of  pasture in september/october with consequential rises in sugars. Ponies love high sugar pastures and in fact may over consume during these times. 

Ponies that are overweight/obese should be placed on a nutritionally balanced weight loss programme. It is easier to do this in winter when they use up more calories to keep warm for example. This can be difficult as some ponies hang on to their condition no matter what and recent research at Liverpool University has proved this.
The diets for these horses and ponies should contain less than 10% carbohydrates in the total Dry Matter i.e. including forage and any hard feed and must also  include supplementary  micronutrients i.e. vitamins and minerals.
Exercise for sound horses and ponies is essential as this is thought to reduce the effects of  IR and help reduce bodyweight.
 
The following points discuss the dietary management required as both a preventative tool and also for those with EMS, PPID, IR or laminitis.

A. Reduce sugar and other water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) intake.
B. Reduce bodyweight slowly in the overweight/obese horse or pony.

1. Eliminate all high starch based concentrates (including low energy “cool” mixes) from the diet. Check with supplier the starch content of the feed.
2. Feed later cut meadow hay with a lower level of WSC i.e. sugars of less than 10%. Analyse the hay before feeding if possible, many feed companies do this now, or ask your supplier to test it for WSC. 
3. Soak hay for 30 minutes (in warm water if possible) or in cold water before feeding to remove up to 30% of residual soluble sugars although this is not very reliable as research shows hays following soaking vary tremendously in sugar content.
4. Start by feeding 2% of the horses bodyweight as hay reducing to 1.5% if not losing weight after 4 weeks. 1% is the absolute minimum and requires veterinary supervision.
Restrict access to pasture by using a muzzle or strip grazing or reduce time out at grass to no longer than four hours, in the morning not afternoon. 
For severely affected horses and ponies or those with confirmed IR,  temporarily stop all access to pasture, use grass free areas instead such as arenas until a significant reduction in bodyweight has been achieved and insulin sensitivity has improved.  Do not starve, feed hay as above. Also restrict pasture access to horses at certain times of the year i.e. not during grass flushing times where e.g. a drought period is followed by sun and rain.
7. If the horse is sound, exercise wherever possible even walking out in hand 
8. Take into account breed types and natural body frame when assessing condition
9. Monitor weight loss and retest for IR following weight loss programme.
10. Feed a multivitamin and mineral performance level supplement or low starch balancer with a small amount of low calorie unmolassed chaff and unmolassed beet pulp (very dilute).
11. In summer months, researchers found lowest levels of WSC  in the morning between 4-5am, rising to peak levels at 4-5pm (due to photosynthesis all day which makes sugars) and during the dark hours many of these sugars are used up for respiration.
12. In winter months restrict turn out on sunny frosty mornings, as cold nights reduce respiration rates in plants and thereby prevent pasture from naturally using up sugars it made the day before.

For underweight laminitics/PPID/EMS, energy should be supplied as fat and fibre or low starch horse and pony cubes/fibre based compounds. Unmolassed beet pulp and low sugar chaffs are ideal with added oil such as linseed oil and a vit/min supplement or balancer, containing vitamin E.

Prevention is certainly better than cure with laminitis and every effort should be made to correct IR or reverse its effects by reducing obesity slowly.
Laminitis is not a new disease; it has been around for around 2,000 years. In fact, Aristotle referred to a disease caused by high intakes of cereal known as barley disease!
Although in 2014 we still have no definitive answer as to the cause it appears we are getting closer. It is now thought to be largely a hormonal problem which gives horses a predisposition to laminitis when high levels of sugars, fructan and/or starch are eaten, such as found particularly in spring pasture, frosted pasture and cereal grains.  
There does appear to be a genetic link in certain breeds and research from a herd of Dartmoor ponies over several generations supported this. Anecdotally, Dartmoor, Welsh and Shetland ponies appear to be more susceptible to laminitis as do Morgans, Arabs and warmbloods, but this is not an exhaustive list!
It is that time of year again, when many horse owners need to think about management changes to prevent this disease as spring pasture starts to grow and sugar levels in the grass increase.  It is important to be prepared and make appropriate management changes to help reduce the risk of laminitis. 
Fortunately, there is plenty of research providing more information concerning laminitis and improved management techniques.  

Current Research 
A research team from Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky have undertaken some major research looking into individually made foot casts and stem cells in the treatent of chronic laminitis for horses with a previously poor prognosis i.e. significant rotation or sinkers.  They have used individually made foot casts which have been shown to be effective in aiding recovery, by stabilising the entire foot.  Movement within the hoof capsule is lowered thereby reducing the shearing forces on the laminae.
Perhaps,the newest potential therapy is stem cell therapy., used specialised stem cells called Mesenchymal Stem Cells or MSC for stabilising  chronic laminitis, by helping to repair damage to the laminae. Affected horses with sinking or rotation of the coffin bone can develop a laminar wedge between the coffin bone and hoof wall. This stem cell therapy is used to help repair the disorganised tissues of the laminar wedge. MSC are particular stem cells that can differentiate or be turned into many different types or tissue in the horses body, including connective and bone tissue. This MSC therapy was used alongside traditional treatments and showed most usefulness within 30 days of the laminitic episode.  Of the 30 cases, 70% were successful. Further studies are now under way to evaluate the quality of laminar tissue post-MSC treatment.
Other researchers has found that when horses were fed 38g linseed or flaxseed oil per day they showed improved sensitivity to insulin, although this research is in its early stages, feeding linseed oil may be worthwhile to horses with known EMS/IR or cushings (see below).
Horseowners who are concerned about laminits need to know about sugar and carbohydrate measurements in feeds and forage. Although these are quite technical terms and somewhat confusing, you may see these on pasture or hay/haylage analysis reports, so it does help to know what they are. Some analyses will give total sugar and starch percentages but  NSC’s and WSC’s are also frequently used.
NSC’s - Sugars, fructan and starch are collectively known as None-Structural Carbohydrates 
WSC’s - Sugars and fructan, without starch are collectively known as Water Soluble Carbohydrates

Horses and Hormones - The endocrine Factor
Many horses suffering from laminitis have been found to be less sensitive than normal to the hormone Insulin. This term is known as insulin resistance or IR. 
Insulin helps to remove excess glucose from the horses’ blood and store it in the liver and muscles for later use as glycogen or more long term in the fat cells as fat. Insulin Resistance is therefore characterised by high levels of circulating insulin or abnormally high glucose and insulin levels in the blood.  Vets can test for this by giving the horse an oral or IV glucose and/or insulin challenge. Incidentally, many mares with IR also maintain oestrus cycles throughout the year or well into winter, when they should stop. This could therefore be a symptom of IR in some mares.
Horses with IR also have higher levels of substances known as inflammatory markers associated with obesity or being heavily overweight and these may also play a role in the development of laminitis. In other words, higher levels of inflammation are generally found in the chronically obese horse.
There is a known association between obesity, IR and laminitis which is collectively known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). EMS is similar in parts to metabolic syndrome in humans (Diabetes Type 2). Horses with EMS are likely to show general obesity or regional obesity (cresty neck for example), Insulin Resistance and a predisposition to laminitis. So, obese horses with chronic long term IR are increasingly likely to succumb to laminitis if they are left to graze unrestricted on high WSC pastures or are fed high WSC hay/haylage and/or high starch cereal feeds.
IR also appears to be  involved in other none nutritional causes of laminitis. So endotoxaemia episodes or treatment with corticosteroids are more likely to result in laminitis if the horse or pony also has IR.
Meanwhile, to complicate things further, horses with Cushings, now referred to as Pituitary Pars Intermediate Dysfunction (PPID), often show symptoms of IR and laminitis although they are usually, but not always older. It is therefore a good idea to test older ponies for both PPID and IR.
 
In other words Laminitis is absolutely not a simple or straightforward disease, it appears to have multiple factors acting together, which is why it is so difficult to prevent.

The pasture sugar factory
Horses have evolved to eat grass! However the quality and type of pastures they should be eating are very different from the ryegrass based pastures some horses are grazed on today. 
However, all pastures at certain times of year contain higher levels of Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC) resulting in peaks of blood sugar and consequently insulin, in horses and ponies grazing these pastures. 
In the UK a trial using Dartmoor and Welsh ponies showed that grazing ponies with IR had a higher risk of developing laminitis than those without IR. This explains why only one or two ponies grazing the same pasture will develop the disease, not all.
The problem with pasture is that sugar levels change almost continually. This will largely depend upon the environmental conditions, is it warm, cold, cloudy, sunny, frosty etc.? Use of fertilisers may also increase the amount of WSC in grass. This makes it very difficult to know when horses that may be prone to laminitis should be turned out to graze, if at all.
In general, sugars in pasture increase during the day, peak mid to late afternoon and then fall overnight. They should therefore be lowest in the morning. This does not apply on very cold frosty mornings! This is because grass makes sugars by photosynthesis all day, then at night when there is no sunlight and therefore no photosynthesis, these sugars are mostly used up by the grass. If its very cold overnight the sugars are not used up fast enough and sugar levels therefore remain high in the morning. Warm sunny days with damp soils results in maximum sugar production!  Cloudy, rainy days or very dry conditions results in reduced sugar production. Areas of pasture under the shade of trees will tend to have less sugars than that in bright unshaded sunlight.
In addition to these daily patterns, a seasonal pattern certainly exists for laminitis with the highest incidence around May and June associated with high levels of sugars in pasture as discussed above. There is a smaller surge in growth of pasture in September/October with consequential rises in sugars. Horses seem to love high sugar pastures and may over consume during these times.
Grass growth and sugar production also falls dramatically in cold temperatures of below 6 degrees centigrade. In other words the sugar making factory slows right down.

Management Tips to help prevent Laminitis
Horses that are overweight/obese should be placed on a nutritionally balanced weight loss programme. It is easier to do this in winter when they use up more calories to keep warm. This can be difficult as some horses hang on to their excess weight no matter what and recent research at Liverpool University has proved this!
The diets for these horses should contain less than 10% WSC (Dry Matter) i.e. including forage and any hard feed and must also include supplementary micronutrients i.e. vitamins and minerals. 
Note that many cool or low energy coarse mixes and cubes on the market contain high levels of starch, unbeknown to the horse owner.  It is essential to find out the starch content from the manufacturer, before feeding. Some are as high as 30% starch!
Exercise for sound horses is essential as this is thought to reduce the effects of IR and help reduce bodyweight.

Management Plan
Reduce WSC intake and starch.  The total diet i.e. forage and feed should contain 10%  or less. Eliminate all high starch based concentrates (including low energy “cool” mixes) from the diet. Check with supplier the starch content of the feed.
Aim to reduce bodyweight slowly in the overweight/obese horse or pony.
Feed later cut meadow hay with a lower level of WSC i.e. sugars of less than 10 per cent.  Analyse the hay before feeding if possible, many feed companies do this now, Dodson & Horrell offer this service on their website, or ask your forage supplier to test it for WSC.
Soak hay for 30 minutes (in warm water if possible) or in cold water before feeding to remove up to 30 per cent of residual soluble sugars although this is not very reliable as research shows that hays following soaking vary tremendously in sugar content. 
Start by feeding 2 per cent of the horse’s bodyweight as hay reducing to 1.5 per cent if not losing weight after four weeks.  One per cent is the absolute minimum and requires veterinary supervision.
Restrict access to pasture by using a muzzle or strip grazing or reduce time out at grass to no longer than four hours in the morning not in the afternoon.
For severely affected horses and ponies or those with confirmed IR, temporarily stop all access to pasture, use grass free areas instead such as arenas until a significant reduction in bodyweight has been achieved and insulin sensitivity has improved. Do not starve, feed hay as above. Also restrict pasture access to horses at certain times of the year i.e. not during grass flushing times where e.g. a drought period is followed by warm sun and rain.
If the horse is sound, exercise wherever possible even walking out in hand.
Feed 36g linseed oil per day to horses with knonw or suspected  IR
Monitor weight loss and retest for IR/EMS following weight loss programme.
Feed a multivitamin and mineral performance level supplement or low starch balancer with a small amount of low calorie unmolassed chaff and unmolassed beet pulp (very dilute).
In summer months, researchers found lowest levels of WSC in the morning between 4-5am, rising to peak levels at 4-5pm (due to photosynthesis all day which makes sugars).
In winter months restrict turn out on sunny frosty mornings, as cold nights reduce respiration rates in plants and thereby prevent pasture from naturally using up sugars it made the day before.
For underweight laminitics/PPID/EMS, energy should be supplied as fat and fibre or low starch horse and pony cubes/fibre based compounds. Unmolassed beet pulp and low sugar chaffs are ideal with added oil such as linseed oil or stabilised ricebran and a suitable vitamin/mineral supplement or balancer, containing vitamin E.

Prevention is certainly better than cure with laminitis and every effort should be made to correct Insulin Resistance or reverse its effects by reducing obesity slowly.

Laminitis is not a new disease; it has been around for around 2,000 years. In fact, Aristotle referred to a disease caused by high intakes of cereal known as barley disease!

Although in 2014 we still have no definitive answer as to the cause it appears we are getting closer. It is now thought to be largely a hormonal problem which gives horses a predisposition to laminitis when high levels of sugars, fructan and/or starch are eaten, such as found particularly in spring pasture, frosted pasture and cereal grains.  

There does appear to be a genetic link in certain breeds and research from a herd of Dartmoor ponies over several generations supported this. Anecdotally, Dartmoor, Welsh and Shetland ponies appear to be more susceptible to laminitis as do Morgans, Arabs and warmbloods, but this is not an exhaustive list!

It is that time of year again, when many horse owners need to think about management changes to prevent this disease as spring pasture starts to grow and sugar levels in the grass increase.  It is important to be prepared and make appropriate management changes to help reduce the risk of laminitis. 

Fortunately, there is plenty of research providing more information concerning laminitis and improved management techniques.  

Current Research 

A research team from Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky have undertaken some major research looking into individually made foot casts and stem cells in the treatent of chronic laminitis for horses with a previously poor prognosis i.e. significant rotation or sinkers.  They have used individually made foot casts which have been shown to be effective in aiding recovery, by stabilising the entire foot.  Movement within the hoof capsule is lowered thereby reducing the shearing forces on the laminae.

Perhaps,the newest potential therapy is stem cell therapy., used specialised stem cells called Mesenchymal Stem Cells or MSC for stabilising  chronic laminitis, by helping to repair damage to the laminae. Affected horses with sinking or rotation of the coffin bone can develop a laminar wedge between the coffin bone and hoof wall. This stem cell therapy is used to help repair the disorganised tissues of the laminar wedge. MSC are particular stem cells that can differentiate or be turned into many different types or tissue in the horses body, including connective and bone tissue. This MSC therapy was used alongside traditional treatments and showed most usefulness within 30 days of the laminitic episode.  Of the 30 cases, 70% were successful. Further studies are now under way to evaluate the quality of laminar tissue post-MSC treatment.

Other researchers has found that when horses were fed 38g linseed or flaxseed oil per day they showed improved sensitivity to insulin, although this research is in its early stages, feeding linseed oil may be worthwhile to horses with known EMS/IR or cushings (see below).

Horseowners who are concerned about laminits need to know about sugar and carbohydrate measurements in feeds and forage. Although these are quite technical terms and somewhat confusing, you may see these on pasture or hay/haylage analysis reports, so it does help to know what they are. Some analyses will give total sugar and starch percentages but  NSC’s and WSC’s are also frequently used.

NSC’s - Sugars, fructan and starch are collectively known as None-Structural Carbohydrates 

WSC’s - Sugars and fructan, without starch are collectively known as Water Soluble Carbohydrates

Horses and Hormones - The endocrine Factor

Many horses suffering from laminitis have been found to be less sensitive than normal to the hormone Insulin. This term is known as insulin resistance or IR. 

Insulin helps to remove excess glucose from the horses’ blood and store it in the liver and muscles for later use as glycogen or more long term in the fat cells as fat. Insulin Resistance is therefore characterised by high levels of circulating insulin or abnormally high glucose and insulin levels in the blood.  Vets can test for this by giving the horse an oral or IV glucose and/or insulin challenge. Incidentally, many mares with IR also maintain oestrus cycles throughout the year or well into winter, when they should stop. This could therefore be a symptom of IR in some mares.

Horses with IR also have higher levels of substances known as inflammatory markers associated with obesity or being heavily overweight and these may also play a role in the development of laminitis. In other words, higher levels of inflammation are generally found in the chronically obese horse.

There is a known association between obesity, IR and laminitis which is collectively known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). EMS is similar in parts to metabolic syndrome in humans (Diabetes Type 2). Horses with EMS are likely to show general obesity or regional obesity (cresty neck for example), Insulin Resistance and a predisposition to laminitis. So, obese horses with chronic long term IR are increasingly likely to succumb to laminitis if they are left to graze unrestricted on high WSC pastures or are fed high WSC hay/haylage and/or high starch cereal feeds.
IR also appears to be  involved in other none nutritional causes of laminitis. So endotoxaemia episodes or treatment with corticosteroids are more likely to result in laminitis if the horse or pony also has IR.

Meanwhile, to complicate things further, horses with Cushings, now referred to as Pituitary Pars Intermediate Dysfunction (PPID), often show symptoms of IR and laminitis although they are usually, but not always older. It is therefore a good idea to test older ponies for both PPID and IR.
 

In other words Laminitis is absolutely not a simple or straightforward disease, it appears to have multiple factors acting together, which is why it is so difficult to prevent.

The pasture sugar factory

Horses have evolved to eat grass! However the quality and type of pastures they should be eating are very different from the ryegrass based pastures some horses are grazed on today. 

However, all pastures at certain times of year contain higher levels of Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC) resulting in peaks of blood sugar and consequently insulin, in horses and ponies grazing these pastures. 

In the UK a trial using Dartmoor and Welsh ponies showed that grazing ponies with IR had a higher risk of developing laminitis than those without IR. This explains why only one or two ponies grazing the same pasture will develop the disease, not all.

The problem with pasture is that sugar levels change almost continually. This will largely depend upon the environmental conditions, is it warm, cold, cloudy, sunny, frosty etc.? Use of fertilisers may also increase the amount of WSC in grass. This makes it very difficult to know when horses that may be prone to laminitis should be turned out to graze, if at all.

In general, sugars in pasture increase during the day, peak mid to late afternoon and then fall overnight. They should therefore be lowest in the morning. This does not apply on very cold frosty mornings! This is because grass makes sugars by photosynthesis all day, then at night when there is no sunlight and therefore no photosynthesis, these sugars are mostly used up by the grass. If its very cold overnight the sugars are not used up fast enough and sugar levels therefore remain high in the morning. Warm sunny days with damp soils results in maximum sugar production!  Cloudy, rainy days or very dry conditions results in reduced sugar production. Areas of pasture under the shade of trees will tend to have less sugars than that in bright unshaded sunlight.

In addition to these daily patterns, a seasonal pattern certainly exists for laminitis with the highest incidence around May and June associated with high levels of sugars in pasture as discussed above. There is a smaller surge in growth of pasture in September/October with consequential rises in sugars. Horses seem to love high sugar pastures and may over consume during these times.

Grass growth and sugar production also falls dramatically in cold temperatures of below 6 degrees centigrade. In other words the sugar making factory slows right down.

Management Tips to help prevent Laminitis

Horses that are overweight/obese should be placed on a nutritionally balanced weight loss programme. It is easier to do this in winter when they use up more calories to keep warm. This can be difficult as some horses hang on to their excess weight no matter what and recent research at Liverpool University has proved this!
The diets for these horses should contain less than 10% WSC (Dry Matter) i.e. including forage and any hard feed and must also include supplementary micronutrients i.e. vitamins and minerals. 

Note that many cool or low energy coarse mixes and cubes on the market contain high levels of starch, unbeknown to the horse owner.  It is essential to find out the starch content from the manufacturer, before feeding. Some are as high as 30% starch!

Exercise for sound horses is essential as this is thought to reduce the effects of IR and help reduce bodyweight.

Management Plan

  • Reduce WSC intake and starch.  The total diet i.e. forage and feed should contain 10%  or less. Eliminate all high starch based concentrates (including low energy “cool” mixes) from the diet. Check with supplier the starch content of the feed.
  • Aim to reduce bodyweight slowly in the overweight/obese horse or pony.
  • Feed later cut meadow hay with a lower level of WSC i.e. sugars of less than 10 per cent.  Analyse the hay before feeding if possible, many feed companies do this now, Dodson & Horrell offer this service on their website, or ask your forage supplier to test it for WSC.
  • Soak hay for 30 minutes (in warm water if possible) or in cold water before feeding to remove up to 30 per cent of residual soluble sugars although this is not very reliable as research shows that hays following soaking vary tremendously in sugar content. 
  • Start by feeding 2 per cent of the horse’s bodyweight as hay reducing to 1.5 per cent if not losing weight after four weeks.  One per cent is the absolute minimum and requires veterinary supervision.
  • Restrict access to pasture by using a muzzle or strip grazing or reduce time out at grass to no longer than four hours in the morning not in the afternoon.
  • For severely affected horses and ponies or those with confirmed IR, temporarily stop all access to pasture, use grass free areas instead such as arenas until a significant reduction in bodyweight has been achieved and insulin sensitivity has improved. Do not starve, feed hay as above. Also restrict pasture access to horses at certain times of the year i.e. not during grass flushing times where e.g. a drought period is followed by warm sun and rain.
  • If the horse is sound, exercise wherever possible even walking out in hand.
  • Feed 36g linseed oil per day to horses with knonw or suspected  IR
  • Monitor weight loss and retest for IR/EMS following weight loss programme.
  • Feed a multivitamin and mineral performance level supplement or low starch balancer with a small amount of low calorie unmolassed chaff and unmolassed beet pulp (very dilute).
  • In summer months, researchers found lowest levels of WSC in the morning between 4-5am, rising to peak levels at 4-5pm (due to photosynthesis all day which makes sugars).
  • In winter months restrict turn out on sunny frosty mornings, as cold nights reduce respiration rates in plants and thereby prevent pasture from naturally using up sugars it made the day before.
  • For underweight laminitics/PPID/EMS, energy should be supplied as fat and fibre or low starch horse and pony cubes/fibre based compounds. Unmolassed beet pulp and low sugar chaffs are ideal with added oil such as linseed oil or stabilised ricebran and a suitable vitamin/mineral supplement or balancer, containing vitamin E.

Prevention is certainly better than cure with laminitis and every effort should be made to correct Insulin Resistance or reverse its effects by reducing obesity slowly.