Managing Laminitis

Our nutrition expert explains best practices on how to manage Laminitis without impacting the digestive system.

Laminitis is a common problem due to the rich, green grasses in the UK. Our Equine Nutrition experts at Bishop Burton College have provided us with Dos & Don’ts on managing a laminitic horse or pony.

It has been a strange year weather-wise. The early drought and then large amounts of rain has meant we have had spring-like grass growing in October. Normally, by October the risk of laminitis has decreased but this year we have had a second wave of rich, high-calorie grass to watch out for. It is has been more important than ever to know how to manage a laminitic through their feeding regime.

The horses and ponies more prone to Laminitis are often our native breeds and those overweight. Managing a laminitic horse can be challenging as one of the risk factors is a high-calorie diet. The logical choice for owners is to cut down on how much the horse is fed. Horses have evolved to be trickle feeders, meaning that their digestive system needs an almost constant supply of food to function optimally. Interfering with this supply by starving the horse for any period is making the horse vulnerable to other disorders, including colic and gastric ulcers. Owners and caregivers should avoid reducing the volume of feed supplied. Alternatively, you should look at the calorific value of the feed and reduce this. This will allow a continuous supply to the horse with food, little and often. See below an example:

What not to do -

Horse 1 is turned out, but upon onset laminitis, is kept stabled and reduced to 2 small haynets (one in the morning and one at night). This is to help reduce body weight and keep laminitis at bay. The horse now consumes his haynet within an hour in the morning and stands without food for 12 hours until given a night haynet. As a result, he gorges and eats the haynet within 20 minutes due to being starved all day. This continues the cycle of starvation and gorging, increasing the likelihood of choke, colic, and gastric ulcers.

What to do -

Find a lower calorie alternative; Baillie Haylage’s High Fibre, Traditional
Parkland Meadow
or Meadow Grass are all suitable. These can be fed in
larger quantities alongside techniques such as:

  • double netting to slow consumption,
  • more frequent and smaller nets provided (perhaps 3 or 4 throughout the day rather than 1)

If turned out, these can be placed around a paddock to encourage movement. Horses eat more during the day than at night, meaning we can provide most of the forage throughout the day and give smaller nets throughout the night.

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