Help Limit Laminitis

In this issue, you'll find (if you haven't already) a feature article on managing the chronically laminitic horse to regain maximum soundness and comfort (see page 79). Laminitis is a devastating problem that crosses the lines between breeds and disciplines, striking wherever we are unwary.

Wait--am I saying that we can prevent laminitis if we just pay more attention?

For the most part--yes.

To be sure, we don't yet know everything about laminitis. We don't know exactly why it occurs, why some horses have more acute attacks than others, or why some severe cases bounce back while seemingly lesser cases go downhill until euthanasia is the only humane option.

However, we do know a lot more about laminitis than we used to, thanks to laboratory and field research. We know that fructan (a type of sugar) in many pasture grasses can easily cause laminitis, leading us to be more conscious of how much lush spring pasture our horses are eating. We understand the sequence of damaging events within the hoof better than before, which puts us on the road to stopping these events. We know that X rays and evaluation of blood flow throughout the foot together provide a better visualization of each case's overall picture. This means that we're getting the veterinarian in the picture for more in-depth diagnosis and treatment rather than relying on a farrier and a heart bar shoe for each case regardless of quirks and severity.

Unfortunately, we know more about trigger factors than universally effective treatments--and that a lot of those trigger factors have to do with overeating (once or on a constant basis) and/or under-exercising. In many ways, our horses are mirroring ourselves--compared to previous decades, many horses (and their owners) are living on less ground, doing less physical work for a living, and eating far better than previous generations.

Are you killing your horse with pampering?

If you're reading this magazine, then you have a strong interest in maintaining and improving your horse's health. You're probably not neglecting your horse's welfare. Nevertheless, it is never a bad idea to step back and take a hard look at your equine management program. Maybe your horse's exercise level has dropped because you've been working late--have you adjusted his feed accordingly? If you've had a lot of rain lately, have you brought your horse inside, mowed the pasture, and/or put a grazing muzzle on him to keep him from gorging on lush grass? Either problem could be the seemingly innocuous first step on the road to laminitis.

Sometimes, accidents that lead to laminitis just happen--a horse gets into the feed room one night, or gets loose and road-founders from running around a parking lot. But most laminitis cases are preventable. So help prevent them!

Remember that owner who all but beds her chronically foundered horse's stall with hay and avoids the veterinarian like the plague? Tell her how she is compromising her horse's chance of regaining a comfortable life. Show her information resources (articles from reputable magazines, books, web sites, etc.) to help educate her about how she can improve her horse's health, not steepen the downward spiral. You'll have to approach this carefully; not many of us are open to changing the way we've always done things. But when "old ways" have been scientifically proven to be problematic, then we have to change them in order to improve our horses' quality of life.

After all, it's our daily schedules and demands that keep many horses in an overindulged, under-exercised lifestyle that can ultimately damage or kill them (from a variety of conditions). We have a responsibility to the horses we own. For the service and enjoyment horses give us, we owe a debt of proper health care and management that is right for them--not just care when it's convenient for us.

Education on proper horse care practices is the key to preventing and minimizing the effects of devastating conditions such as laminitis. Researchers have given us the science behind the disease, and veterinarians and farriers dedicated to treating laminitis cases have given us successful treatment protocols. Now it's up to each one of us to spread the word.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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