Feeding Laminitic Broodmares

Q: My best friend's broodmare has unilateral laminitis (laminitis in one front hoof); she is a 19-year-old Quarter Horse and is currently five months pregnant. The concern is what to feed her to keep the foal healthy, and to keep her from suffering further damage. We cannot find any resources that cover both the pregnancy and laminitis issues.             


A: It would help to know the initial cause of the laminitis, if she has Cushing's disease, and if there have been any sequelae such as rotation of the third phalanx or coffin bone, sinking, or chronic toe abscesses in order to determine what the present level of concern is for complications during the mare's pregnancy. Our main issue nutritionally is how to safely provide this mare with the necessary caloric intake (digestible energy) during late gestation and lactation.

Consistent forage intake is critical to maintaining the microbial population for fermentation in the hindgut, where we are most likely to see disturbances that can lead to colic or laminitis. If you don't have good control over your hay supply, you can maintain consistency by replacing part of the hay ration with pelleted or cubed hay.

If you need to increase your mare's caloric intake beyond what she can get with hay alone, you can provide fats rather than carbohydrates. Starches and sugars are carbohydrates that form the main source of calories in molasses/sweet feeds and in grains like corn. Carbohydrates left undigested in the small intestine enter the hindgut, where they upset the microbial population if present in large amounts. We don't have that concern with fats, which are highly digestible by horses and can be provided in a complete feed at 6-10% of the feed (most feeds are about 3.5% fat) or by giving plain oats supplemented with vegetable oil.

Of course, you should discuss these changes with your veterinarian to determine what your mare's total nutrient and caloric needs are as she approaches late gestation and lactation.

About the Author

Nancy Diehl, VMD, MS

Prior to attending veterinary school, Dr. Nancy Diehl completed a master’s degree in animal science while studying stallion sexual behavior. Later, she completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and worked in equine practices in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Diehl also spent six years on faculty at Penn State, where she taught equine science and behavior courses and advised graduate students completing equine behavior research. Additionally, Diehl has co-authored scientific papers on stallion behavior, early intensive handling of foals, and feral horse contraception. Currently she is a practicing veterinarian in central Pennsylvania.

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