Managing Laminitis-Prone Horses

There are countless "how-to's" regarding managing a horse diagnosed with laminitis, and many horse owners are familiar with these procedures. But how should you manage a horse that has not developed the debilitating disease, but is a likely candidate? Based on existing knowledge and scientific reports, the following tips could help reduce the likelihood of at-risk horses developing laminitis.


  • Base the horse's diet on forage and fiber.
  • Aim to feed forage with less than a 10% nonstructural carbohydrate (i.e., starch, sugar, and fructan) content. If your hay has a higher carbohydrate content than 10%, soaking hay in fresh clean water for at least three hours (possibly overnight) might help to reduce the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content. However, as the results from soaking are variable, try to ensure the original forage has a low NSC content or feed an appropriate forage replacer.
  • If concentrates are offered to the horse at all, ensure meals are fed in sufficiently small sizes and are low in starch/sugar content so they only trigger a low-to-moderate insulin response in the horse's body.
  • For animals requiring more energy than forage alone provides, consider the use of more digestible forage (i.e., less mature grass hay). Avoid feeding alfalfa or haylage (which are high in WSC concentration) to animals that are prone to laminitis. Also consider including highly digestible fiber sources such as beet pulp (with no molasses) or soya hulls. It's advisable to soak the beet pulp and throw away the water prior to feeding to reduce the WSC content as much as possible. Finally, consider using vegetable oil as an energy source.
  • Feed a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or an appropriately fortified low-calorie balancer if little to no fortified feed is given.
  • Make all dietary changes slowly. Use extra caution when adjusting the rations of pregnant or sick animals.


  • When allowed free access to grass, preserved forage, or forage replacers, some horses will ingest up to 5% of their body weight in dry matter per day and considerable amounts even in a few hours of turnout.
  • Consider zero grazing (while providing the horse with suitable forage alternatives) if it is essential that the horse ingest minimal levels of sugar, starch, and fructans or if your horse needs a strict weight management program.
  • Turn horses out to pasture when fructan and WSC levels are likely to be at the lowest, such as late at night to early morning, and remove them from the pasture by mid-morning, when the fructan and WSC levels begin to elevate.
  • Do not graze on pastures that have not been properly managed by regular fertilizing, manure clearing, grazing, or cutting.
  • Be aware that a high intake of pasture with a low or moderate NSC content will still result in high overall NSC and energy intake.
  • Restrict or avoid turn out in spring (before flower development) and autumn. At any time, consider restricted turnout to pastures during flowering and early seeding.
  • Do not allow horses to graze on pastures that have been exposed to low temperatures (e.g., frosts) followed by warm, bright sunny days, or those that have been "stressed" through drought.
  • Consider maintaining turnout by using grazing muzzles (ensure that horses can maintain sufficient water intake and be aware of possible behavioral issues); strip grazing behind other horses; mowing and removing clippings; putting a deep layer of wood chips over a small paddock; or using drylots to reduce grass intake. When feeding restricted forage intakes on sandy pastures, keep in mind the potential increased risk of sand colic.
  • Rotate paddock use regularly, perhaps with other species such as sheep or cattle, to keep the grass levels at an appropriate height and to avoid the paddocks becoming stressed through either under- or overgrazing.


  • Maintain regular exercise wherever possible.
  • Aim to maintain a moderate body condition score between 4 and 5 (moderate) out of 9 on the Henneke Body Condition Scale.
  • For animals that are overweight, plan an active weight management program with your veterinarian that is linked with increasing exercise whenever possible.
  • Set realistic targets and monitor the horse's weight and condition on a regular basis.
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