Insulin Levels Might Help Measure Likelihood of Laminitis

Researchers have found that administering fructan carbohydrates or dexamethasone might be a useful method to identify ponies at risk of developing laminitis. Their report was recently published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"Being able to identify which ponies are at risk for laminitis will enable us to initiate preventative measures and limit the number of ponies who develop this condition," said Raymond C. Boston, PhD, from the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a co-author on this study.

Ten ponies predisposed to laminitis (i.e., one episode of acute pasture-related laminitis in the previous two years) and 11 normal, non-obese ponies were included in this experiment.

Results revealed that insulin levels of the ponies on pasture were significantly higher in the ponies predisposed to laminitis compared to the normal ponies.

"We also found that in the group of ponies predisposed to laminitis, insulin levels decreased when ponies were fed a hay-based diet compared to pasture, and these levels ultimately increased 5.5 times following the addition of fructans to the hay-based diet. After the administration of dexamethasone, insulin levels were dramatically increased compared to the normal ponies," explained Boston.

These results suggest that the ponies predisposed to laminitis had compensated insulin resistance (an abnormal response to insulin) and exaggerated insulin production that was only detectable following the administration of fructans and dexamethasone.

Boston suggested, "This research may assist in the development of practical screening methods that may permit the identification of animals at risk of laminitis."

To date, tests currently available for determining insulin resistance in horses are not practical in a clinic or stall-side setting.

"Effect of dietary fructans and dexamethasone administration on the insulin response of ponies predisposed to laminitis," was published in November 2007. Co-authors included Bailey, BVMS, PhD; Menzies-Gow, VetMB, PhD; Harris, VetMB, PhD; Habershon-Butcher BVetMed; Crawford, BSc; Berhane, PhD; Boston; and Elliott, VetMB, PhD.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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