Laminitis Horses: How to Manage Their Horse Health Care This Spring

Owners of laminitis horses are starting to chew their fingernails because spring is just around the corner. Despite record cold weather in parts of the country, green grass and other signs of spring are popping up regardless. This, of course, makes people who have laminitis horses quite nervous!

If you are one of those people, don’t panic. Luckily for you, there are a lot of horse health care steps you can take to prevent your equine buddy from experiencing laminitis symptoms … or at least keep them to a minimum. The same is true for horses who are insulin-resistant, or otherwise on the edge of falling into laminitis.

In this article I cover some basic steps you can take to keep your laminitis or laminitis-prone horse healthy this spring. If you want to learn more about this chronic condition in general, check out the ebook Understanding and Managing Cushing’s Disease, Insulin Resistance and Laminitis

Horse Health Care

Preparing Laminitis Horses for Spring Before spring really hits, horse owners can take steps to ensure that their laminitis horses are healthy and ready for warmer weather and greener pastures. Assuming that your horse is currently not experiencing any symptoms of laminitis, here are three steps you can take to ensure that he’s ready for the coming season.

Check Weight and Insulin Levels

Overweight horses and insulin-resistant horses are both prone to laminitis. Before you turn your laminitis horse out on pasture, make sure that he is at a healthy weight. Overweight horses tend to develop mechanical laminitis, meaning their hooves can’t stand the weight of their bodies. If your horse is overweight, you probably need to help him lose weight before spring. If he still has his winter coat, you may have to run your fingers through his coat to see if he’s fat or just furry. If he is fat, you can help him lose weight either by feeding him a more appropriate diet (see the section on diet below) or exercising him more, or both.

This is also a good time to have some blood work done on your horse to check on insulin levels. Insulin-resistant horses may or may not be overweight, but are prone to grass founder or laminitis. Signs of insulin resistance include a cresty neck and unevenly distributed fat over the withers and base of the tail. A preventative blood test now to check insulin levels can save you grief this coming spring.

Double Check Overall Health

Because laminitis horses tend to experience symptoms when they are generally unhealthy, check for signs of overall health. Signs that your horse isn’t healthy include poor hair coat, eye discharge, change in temperament, stiffness, sensitivity to hot or cold weather or weather changes. If your horse shows any of these signs of poor health, now is the time to increase his nutritional program, and restore his overall health. The combination of one ounce of XanGo mangosteen juice plus New Earth Bluegreen Algae seems to work well for most horses.

Avoid Over-Vaccination and Drugs

Vaccination is a normal part of most barn routines, and yet over-vaccination can be one of the main causes of laminitis. In addition, laminitis horses are extremely sensitive to drugs or vaccinations in their bodies, and even one round of “normal” vaccination can trigger a laminitic episode.

Managing Laminitis Horses During the Spring

Once spring has well and truly arrived, there are more horse health care steps you can take to protect your equine friend from a laminitis episode. Laminitis horses have to be carefully managed in terms of diet and nutritional supplements, hoof care, and pasture turnout.

Diet for Laminitis Horses

The best diet is simple, low in carbohydrates, and high in fiber. Small amounts of equine senior feed is acceptable for some laminitis horses, while others do well on a small amount (8 ounces) of oats or barley. At the same time, some laminitis horses can not tolerate any grains.

A probiotic/enzyme supplement like FasTrack or Simplexity Spectrabiotic supports the digestive function and limits the production of endotoxins. Simplexity blue-green algae provides a source of food-based vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Small doses of antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10 may be indicated. You should not need to give more than 60-120 mg a day of a good quality Q10 product like those produced by SimplexityNutramax Comal, or Thorne brands. Generic brands of Q10 may not be active.

Hoof Care for Laminitis Horses

Spring is also the time many people pull their horses up and put shoes on. However, if possible it is best to keep laminitis horses barefoot for as long as possible. They must be trimmed regularly. If their toes are allowed to grow long or their heels are allowed to get too high, then the normal mechanism of the hoof is impaired. Overly correcting angles on overdue hooves creates unnecessary discomfort for the horse and sets back his effort to establish new laminar attachments.

If your horse must have shoes, you might try a heart bar shoe or a shoe with a Theraflex pad for at least one shoeing period. If contracted tendons are the main problem then wedge pads are used to raise the heels. A reverse shoe may suffice if the tendon tightening is mild. I always shorten the toe to ease breakover. I rarely if ever lower heels. Shoeing must be done by a competent farrier that has worked before with foundered horses. These horses have special needs which may require beveling the inside shoe rim to protect the sole and clips to take pressure off the nails and hoof wall. The shoeing interval must be regular and tailored to the horses needs. Amazingly, owners will spend thousands of dollars to save a foundered horse but neglect hoof care after the crisis is past.

Pasture Management for Laminitis Horses

Turn-out on lush grass should be approached cautiously. Many horse laminitis cases have hormone imbalances that affect their sugar metabolism. Fast-growing, lush grass is high in sugar. In the spring, laminitis horses should closely-monitored for an increase in digital pulse if turned out on pasture.

The safest time to turn out laminitis-prone horses on pasture is late at night or early in the mornings, when the grass is not in a flowering stage of growth or stressed by drought or frost. It’s best to turn these horses out in pastures that have not been sprayed with artificial fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides.

While I prefer horses to be grazed on unfertilized, native grass pastures, grasses in nutrient-poor soil are often under stress and produce high levels of sugars. Since steadily growing grasses tend to deplete their sugar levels (which is a good thing), regular mowing to encourage this kind of growth can help control sugar levels. Regular mowing also helps control weeds.

Keeping Laminitis Horses Health

I hope these tips help you keep your laminitis horse healthy this coming spring. It’s been a trying winter for most of the country, so having a healthy happy spring would be a wonderful blessing for horses and humans alike. If you need more help with your laminitis horse, check out the resources in the next section.

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.