Researcher Reviews How to Reduce Laminitis Incidence

Researcher Reviews How to Reduce Laminitis Incidence

An older, overweight pony is more susceptible to the disease than a younger Thoroughbred, Durham said,


Anyone with a horse or pony suffering from laminitis knows how painful and debilitating it can be. It’s one of the most common reasons a horse requires veterinary treatment. But there are new discoveries unraveling the mysteries around what triggers the disease.

Andy Durham, BSc, BVSc, Cert EP, Dipl. EIM, ECEIM, MRCVS, of Liphook Equine Hospital in Hampshire, England, and a visiting professor at the new University of Surrey School of Veterinary Medicine, will present the latest research on this concerning and complex disease at the Equine Veterinarians Australia Bain Fallon conference, taking place on Australia's Gold Coast, July 13-17.

Durham said that metabolic syndrome, a problem that includes insulin resistance, has progressed into the greatest threat to human health in the developed world and is a consequence of readily available high calorie food and drink, containing refined sugars, and a more sedentary lifestyle.

“It should come as no surprise that this same concept applies to horses and is referred to as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), he said. “The major consequence of EMS in horses is laminitis, a metabolic condition that affects the whole body but is expressed in the feet of a horse.

“Over the last few years our attitude towards the cause of laminitis has changed dramatically," he continued. "We’ve always known that an older, overweight pony is more susceptible to the disease than a younger Thoroughbred, and it was always thought that eating excessive amounts of lush grass, high in simple sugars was the main culprit of laminitis. However recent research evaluating grass intake in grazing horses and ponies has put a different slant on this theory.

Durham said two studies in the past few years have investigated the underlying causes of laminitis in a variety of horses.

"In both studies around 90% of confirmed cases were associated with an underlying endocrine (hormonal) disorder," he said. "Some present with Cushing’s disease (an overproduction of cortisol) and some with equine metabolic syndrome. So when horses and ponies with an underlying hormonal disease graze and ingest sugars (simple sugars, fructans, and starch) from the grass, this stimulates abnormally high levels of insulin.

“In normal horses, without an underlying hormonal disease, grazing pasture is unlikely to lead to insulin levels high enough to cause laminitis,” he added

Durham said that while treatment is extremely important, lifestyle and dietary management is the key to reducing the incidence of the condition.

“The long term feeding of sugar and starch based feeds, particularly to overweight ponies and horses can lead to development of insulin resistance,” he said. “Proper nutrition, exercise, and weight management are important in preventing the disease.”

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