Discover how to help prevent laminitis this spring and summer with these five top tips!
With the warmer weather and the grass becoming greener, horse owners look for ways to prevent laminitis. Along with the sun comes the dreaded ring of ‘laminitis alarm-bells’ and the granted concern for horse health and well-being. Long, staring assessments of our horse’s posture, checking hooves for heat, and the phrase; “is it just me, or does he look a bit lame?”, soon becomes part of routine yard -life.
Luckily, laminitis is not contagious, unlike some equine diseases. However, as the grass grows, the condition becomes more and more prevalent. Therefore, we have put together an essential toolkit to help prevent laminitis and bring peace of mind, this season.
1. Turnout Time…
Turning out at certain times of the day can expose horses to increased risk of laminitis. With more sunlight, the grass grows and starts to produce more energy. Energy in it’s pure state is present in the form of sugars. Therefore, as horses eat the growing grass, they will also be ingesting large amounts of starches and sugars, making them more susceptible to laminitis development.
Scientific research has found that sugars are lowest in grass between 3:00am and 10:00am. Therefore, this period is the prime turnout-time for any horse prone to developing the condition. However, turning out at 3:00am is not practical, so alternatively a few hours in the morning could be provided for daily grazing and turnout.
With busy lives, it may be more practical for horse owner’s to turnout overnight though. When considering overnight turnout, ensure you turnout at the latest time possible, to allow reduction in grass sugar levels. Over the course of the day, the grass would have produced and stored large amounts of energy in its leaves, making it extremely dangerous for the laminitis-prone.
You can also check out the amazing ‘Laminitis’ app, which is available for both iPhone and Android devices. The app monitors weather conditions in your area, predicting the sugar content and therefore the laminitis risk. Keeping an eye on the app’s laminitis risk gauge, could be vital when deciding whether you should turn out or not.
2. Hay Quality…
Ensuring any hay or haylage you feed is low in mould and bacteria, is also essential to reduce the risk of laminitis. It has been found when horses ingest bacteria, it can cause the acceleration of laminitis onset. Therefore offering un-hygienic hay, in conjunction with the growing grass, could just tip horses over the edge.
When buying haylage, ensure the plastic wrapping has not been punctured or ripped, as this is a tell-tale sign that the bale will have mould growth. When purchasing hay, ask suppliers for barn-stored hay as this will have been protected from moisture exposure, therefore reducing mould and bacteria growth. If possible, try to get your hands on bales which have seen no rain at all during the drying process!
3. Soaking and Steaming Hay…
With bacterial content of hay in mind, steaming methods should always be opted for over soaking methods.
Steaming has shown to reduce up to 99% of mould and bacteria presence, whilst soaking can actually increase them! However, only use of a commercial steamer has shown to reduce all bacteria types. Make shift alternatives, such as pouring boiling water into a container to create steam, are not powerful enough to produced steam which penetrates whole hay nets, or to reach the temperatures required to kill all bacterias.
Soaking and steaming are also commonly used to reduce the nutritional content in forages. However, these methods alone do not promise the best sugar reductions. In some cases steaming methods have only shown a sugar reduction of 8%, whilst soaking methods average an 18% reduction. With both methods varying in efficacy from cut to cut, opting for hay which is lower in sugar content to start with is the best way forward. This means opting for hay which has lower moisture levels and is more ‘stalky’ in texture. Dryer, ‘stalky’ hay has been shown to have lower nutritional content, and therefore lower sugar content. Some feed companies also offer services which will analyse hay sample’s nutritional qualities, perfect for estimating nutrients levels in large cuts of hay. It may also reveal surprising nutritional deficiencies in your horse’s feeding regime.
4. Still Feeding?
Make sure to factor in how much hard feed your horse is getting too. Commonly, owners will continue to feed the same amount of forage and hard feed alongside new grazing, as they did with sparse, winter grazing. This can cause ‘starch overload’, which is where the horse ingests over the digestible amount of starch they can handle. Starch requirement varies from horse to horse, dependent on weight, workload and temperament. However, feeding too much starch can lead to poor digestive health and conditions such as colic, gastric ulcers and of course, laminitis.
Owners should consider whether a hard feed is necessary during the spring and summer months, or whether there are alternative, lower-starch products available to feed instead. Supplementing with a fat/oil may be a solution to providing calories without the sugar, due to their high calorie, low sugar properties. Or swapping feeds for those with the Lamintis Trust Horse Feed Approval Mark could be considered to prevent laminitis onset. However, consulting an equine nutritionist is always advised, as all horses are unique in their feeding requirements.
5. Do NOT limit forage!
Finally, do NOT limit forage!
Horse weight and how much sugar they are ingesting are large risk factors for laminitis development. Therefore, it may seem sensible to restrict forage to aid with weight-loss or reduce sugar intake, and prevent laminitis.
However, horses are grazing animals and rely on a constant supply of hay, haylage, or grass to maintain their digestive health. In turn, this helps to sustain their general health and performance. Limiting hay or haylage supplies may cause your horse to gorge on grass the next time it is turned out, and therefore is counter-intuitive. It could also cause horse to ‘bolt’ their hard feed, causing choke, and increasing the risk of gastric ulcers.
Taking precautionary steps, as outlined in this article, should aid in reducing overall sugar intake. Additionally, introducing a grazing muzzle or hay nets with small holes should slow down forage intake too.