Rehabilitating Horses with EMS-Associated Laminitis

Rehabilitating Horses with EMS-Associated Laminitis

"Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is one of the most common causes of laminitis," Bicking said.

Photo: Courtesy Daisy Bicking

Daisy Bicking, a farrier based in Parkesburg, Pa., has been documenting horses' hooves for more than a decade. Over this time she has built a database of around 200,000 hoof images and radiographs—many of which belong to horses suffering from equine metabolic syndrome-associated laminitis. She has also developed a program for rehabilitating horses recovering from this endocrine-related disease. To determine how effective her strategy really is, she conducted a retrospective study and presented her results at the 2013 International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Nov. 1-3 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is one of the most common causes of laminitis," she said. "Due to the diverse management issues, a comprehensive protocol is critical to successful rehabilitation. But many owners are unprepared to care for EMS horses at home."

This is where Bicking's management program comes in. She provides specialized care for affected horses until they've recovered enough for their owners to resume care. In doing so she follows five steps:

  1. Obtain a veterinary diagnosis of laminitis secondary to EMS;
  2. Feed a customized, low-glycemic diet;
  3. Provide corrective hoof trimming;
  4. Institute environmental corrections (e.g., a drylot and/or grazing muzzle); and
  5. Ensure caretaker compliance in all these areas.

To determine her success rate following this protocol, Bicking looked back at 110 horses she managed during the past nine years that had been diagnosed via blood tests with EMS-associated laminitis. She measured success based on improved radiographs, pain level, and body condition over time. Specific management strategies she said she implemented included:

  • Feeding a customized, low-glycemic diet using a forage comprised of less than 13% nonstructural carbohydrates and fed at a rate of 1.5% body weight per day;
  • Restricting horses to gravel paddocks; and
  • Trimming and shoeing horses regularly with radiographic guidance. "Clients were educated and provided with serial digital images/radiographs of the feet," Bicking added.

Looking at her results, Bicking found that 105/110 horses (95.45%) returned to their pre-laminitic level of soundness. She said she rehabilitated 77 horses barefoot and 33 shod. She managed 30 of the horses at her home farm and 80 off-site.

While this program appears to be successful in helping horses with EMS-associated laminitis recover from the disease, she emphasized that success hinges on compliance, communication, and teamwork between farrier, veterinarian, and owner.

"While veterinary diagnosis, strict diet, and appropriate hoof care are key, without managing the environment and gaining the compliance of the caretaker, rehabilitation will likely be limited and temporary," she concluded.

This study, "A reproducible model for long-term rehabilitation of the foundered equine metabolic syndrome horse," was published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science

The following slideshow illustrates the progression Daisy Bicking strives for when rehabilitating EMS-associated laminitis cases.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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