What are some of the common laminitis risk factors?
Horses of any type can develop laminitis - so it’s always a good idea to monitor every horse closely for any sign of laminitis. As with most medical issues, and especially with laminitis, do not wait to call the Veterinarian. Early intervention is critical! There are also some horses in the world that are more likely to develop laminitis - and the more you work with your Veterinarian the more likely you are to manage the risks. Down to brass tacks:
Rich pasture can increase the risk of laminitis for many horses! But remember the even dormant grass in the winter can have sugar spikes when the temps stress out the grass.
- Metabolic issues, such as IR (insulin resistance), EMS (equine metabolic syndrome) and Cushing’s disease all are risk factors for laminitis. Simple blood tests can alert you to any brewing issues, long before you see the tell tale signs of fatty deposits, cresty necks, and insane winter coats. My Veterinarian suggests at least yearly tests for these conditions on all horses over the age of 13, with exceptions for younger horses on a case by case basis.
There are many styles of grazing muzzle to choose from. Make sure you rotate styles and halters to help prevent rubs.
- Management of these conditions with a low carbohydrate diet (No more carrots!), grazing muzzles, repeat blood work, medications, and diligent grooming can help you reduce the laminitis risk. Every horse is going to be different - it’s up to you and your Veterinarian to come up with a good treatment plan, and up to you alone to do the daily monitoring and execution of the plan!
Muzzles are a good choice for some horses - especially when the new spring grass arrives!
- Age/gender/size. Older horses are at a higher risk of laminitis, as are geldings. Ponies are more likely to develop laminitis than horses.
- Diet. Rich pasture and a high sugar content feed are certainly higher in “sugars” which are known to play a part in some laminitis cases. If you have any doubts or concerns about your horse’s diet, an Equine Nutritionist can help you sort things out.
Know what's in your horse's feed. You can find feeds with "sugars" as low as 4%. Many senior feeds unfortunately contain "sugars" as high as 20% or more.
- Weight. The obese horse is more likely to develop laminitis, among other things. Exercise levels may also play a part in your horse’s laminitis risk profile. It’s very easy for your Veterinarian to guide you through how to determine your horse’s body score. It’s also super easy for you to tape your horse frequently to determine is weight - this will help you in tracking trends over time.
- Genetics. Certainly the propensity for developing laminitis is carried in your horse’s genes. Hoof design and size and strength all play a role here, too.
There are also a few other factors that can happen to any horse, at any time.
- Supporting limb laminitis occurs when a horse’s injured leg is too painful to bear weight, so his other leg bears more than it’s fair share and develops laminitis. The race horse Barbara is a famous example of this.
- Road founder, aka concussive laminitis, happens when the footing is hard and unforgiving and your horse experiences repeated concussions on his hooves. This is case in point of why icing your horse’s legs and hooves after exercise on any questionable footing is a good idea.
Running around on ground like this is not such a super-duper idea.
- The dreaded loose horse that gorges on grain. Laminitis here occurs due to the violent overload of sugars in your horse’s system that trigger dangerous amounts of endotoxins, a by product of digestion, which cause laminitis.
The bottom line is to know your horse inside and out. Work closely with your Veterinarian regarding weight, regular blood work, an exercise program, and appropriate pasture types and time for your horse. Remember, too, that one call to your Veterinarian if you even remotely suspect laminitis can save his life. Don’t wait!