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      Causes Of Laminitis – How To Diagnose, Treat & Manage with Activo-Med

      Managing Laminitis With Activo-Med

      Well, spring is here; and with it, comes the delicious, sugary, Laminitis-inducing grasses that our horses and ponies will soon begin binging on. Now is a good time to learn what Laminitis is, what its causes are and, importantly, how to effectively treat it. Also see our article on diagnosing horse lameness.


      a horse with laminitis


      What is laminitis?

      Laminitis, also known as the founder, is a condition in which there is inflammation of the laminae (the soft tissue inside the hoof that attaches the coffin bone or pedal bone to the hoof wall). This inflammation weakens the laminae structures, making it difficult to hold the pedal bone in place. As a result, the bone can begin to rotate or sink which causes severe pain in the horse.

      In rotation, the bone will rotate downward. If left untreated, or if the attack of Laminitis is particularly aggressive, the bone will eventually penetrate the sole of the foot. In the case of sinking, which is rarer than rotation but much more severe, the pedal bone becomes separated from the hoof wall due to a weakening of the laminae and begins to drop within the hoof capsule. Again, as with rotation, the bone will begin to penetrate the sole of the foot, and pus may begin to leak from the white line or coronary band.



      Laminitic Hoof

      A laminitis hoof

      Credit: Go Barefoot

      While both cases require immediate aggressive treatment in cooperation with your farrier and veterinarian, cases in which sinking occur are more likely to result in euthanasia. Often if a horse has laminitis once it will return year after year and if not kept on top of and treated vigorously there is a high chance the horse will develop laminitis again.

      There are many causes of Laminitis, with diet playing a significant role. An excess of carbohydrates, nitrogen compounds and sugar in your horse’s diet can quickly lead to Laminitis; particularly during spring when lush, open pastures offer a veritable buffet of sugary grasses. However, Laminitis can also be triggered by colic, untreated infections, insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, poor blood flow, mechanical separation (whereby horses with long toes are worked extensively on hard ground), to name a few.

      However, the most common cause of laminitis in Australia is obesity which is why overall horse care and keeping a close eye on your horses body weight is crucial. Keeping them off of lush pastures in spring and keeping your horse in work in order to encourage weight loss in overweight horses is best practice. You can also pop a grazing muzzle on your horses and ponies to limit their grass intake, this way you can still turn horses out into the field without worrying about them adding too much more weight. Other diseases such as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (Cushings disease) are also related with Laminitis.


      a horse with laminitis

      What are the Causes of Laminitis?

      Obesity Dependant Laminitis: The main cause of laminitis in horses in Australia and in most parts of the developed world is Obesity Dependent Laminitis (ODL). Obese or overweight animals are putting unnecessary strain on their heart, lung and joints. Incidences of ODL and insulin resistance are greatly increased when animals are chronically overweight.

      Insulin Resistance:Insulin is a hormone involved in the regulation of glucose (sugar) levels in the blood and tissues of the body. In response to feeding, insulin is secreted by the pancreas into the blood stream. Insulin in the blood stream directs the glucose absorbed from the food into the body’s tissues including liver, fat and muscle. Insulin resistance occurs when insulin no longer has a normal effect on the tissues. In the insulin resistant horse, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood stream, and the insulin arrives at the tissues and binds the cells, however, the glucose enters the tissue cells at a much lower rate than normal. This lower rate of glucose uptake into tissues results in higher levels of blood glucose. Horses and ponies compensate for insulin resistance by secreting even more insulin into the bloodstream in order to keep the blood glucose concentration within the normal range. Therefore, horses and ponies with EMS have a higher concentration of insulin within the blood, which can be measured to determine if insulin resistance is present. Research has shown insulin resistance to be a major contributing factor in the development of laminitis in horses.

      Nutrition Induced Laminitis: Another common cause is nutritionally induced laminitis through carbohydrate overload. The horse is designed to digest carbohydrates, starches and sugars in the small intestine and fibre in the hindgut. However, if the capacity in the small intestine is exceeded, the digestion of these sugars and starches overflow into the hindgut where they upset the microflora which in turn increases the acidity of the hindgut. The bacteria designed to utilize lactic acid cannot keep up with those producing it, they die, create a toxic environment and are released into the bloodstream via an apparently leaky hindgut epithelium. Certain types of horses are prone to laminitis such as easy keepers, horses with crest necks, obese or insulin resistant horses. Feeds rich in carbohydrates are quite energy dense that means a horse can easily consume more carbohydrates than its body can handle. Carbohydrates found in equine diets can be divided into two types: Structural and Non-structural. Structural carbohydrates are often referred to as fibre and are critical in the equine diet. Non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) are sugars and starches that are broken down by enzymes in the horse’s small intestine into glucose. Common examples of non-structural carbohydrates in horse diets include cereal grains (oats, corn, barley, etc), molasses and short ‘lush’ pasture. Research has shown that metabolic disorders such as Obesity, Insulin Resistance, Laminitis, Cushing’s Disease, Tying-Up as well as behavioural excitability are associated with excess NSC (sugar and starch) in the diet. Expert nutritionists and veterinarians researching in this field have determined “low carb” to be less than 10% NSC of the horse’s overall diet. The other type of carbohydrate that has received a lot of attention lately is fructan. Fructans are fructose and glucose joined together into various lengths and configurations. Fructans of short length are called oligosaccharides. Horses do not have the enzymes to break fructans down so they need their hindgut bacteria population to do it. Fructans are extremely fermentable and if large meals of fructans are consumed it could quickly cause gas colic, scouring and laminitis. Fructan levels in pasture grass can change throughout the day and are at their highest in the late afternoon especially in mild climates and also in the mornings after a frost. As a result monitor conditions or reduce turnout time on pasture during spring, autumn and after frosty conditions as fructan levels can fluctuate dramatically.


      a horse grazing in a paddock


      Other factors: Laminitis can occur due to many reasons such as equine metabolic syndrome, Cushing’s disease, excessive weight-bearing, concussion, fillies and mares coming into season, cold weather, serious cases of colic, infections and toxaemia, retained placenta, and drug inducement. Laminitis can be a multifactorial problem that in some cases is very hard to predict.

      How do you to treat Laminitis?

      What’s most important with Laminitis is quick discovery followed by aggressive treatment. Clinical signs of Laminitis include a pounding pulse in the digital palmar artery, increased body temperature, particular of the wall, sole and/or coronary band of the foot, an awkward gait as though walking on eggshells or shifting weight from the affected hooves, sweating, flared nostrils and anxiety. Horses will also be quite unwillingly to move particularly on hard ground and it’s important during the treatment to give them access to soft ground to encourage as much movement as possible. They can often be seen to walk tentatively on their front legs as they bear the most weight.

      Laminitis is an extremely painful condition. Activo-Meds Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy (PEMF) powered hoof boots and leg wraps can provide an excellent, and easy-to-use means of reducing the pain and inflammation associated with laminitis, whilst simultaneously boosting recovery time.

      Activo-Med leg wraps

      Popular in Europe, New Zealand and across the United States, PEMF therapies are currently being used by trainers and athletes within the Australian Institute of Sport. PEMF therapies are anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and work by pulsating at a 30cm range – hitting the laminae directly, reducing inflammation and relieving pain. Animal Therapeutics offers a range of PEMF technology that can assist in managing the pain of Laminitis, and other conditions, as well as speeding up recovery.

      Activo-Med Hoof Boots

      Activo-Med Combi Hoof Boots can be used for a range of hoof conditions including laminitis. The easy-to-fit boots contain three magnetic spools that provide Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy, and two massage modules each, all housed in a Goretex boot with a rubber base. The boots are then connected to a control box that is attached to a surcingle on the horse, and this controls the intensity, frequency, combination and duration of the therapy. The PEMF element uses therapeutic frequencies to improve cell efficiency and repair, and the massage element helps to improve circulation as it moves blood, lymph and oxygen around the body.

      How can you prevent Laminitis?

      Acute laminitis is an extremely painful and debilitating disease which is why prevention is always better than cure. When it is not treated quickly or correctly it can cause permanent damage, which may develop into recurring chronic laminitis or in severe cases even result in euthanasia.

      Monitoring your horse’s diet

      Horse owners should monitor their horses’ diets carefully. Feed company helplines can give advice on the best products to feed individual horses. All horse owners should remember to feed in accordance with their horse’s workload and type. Dieting ponies and horses should be given around 1.25-1.5 per cent of their body weight in food – this includes any grass and hay intake.

      If you do need to lock your horse pony up the Activo-Med Therapy System can be a great way to help stimulate blood flow to ensure your horse

      Follow the rule of feeding little and often. This mimics the horse’s natural feeding pattern and will help keep the digestive system working correctly. It will also satisfy the horse’s need to chew and prevents boredom. Never starve a horse or pony as this can lead to serious health problems such as hyperlipaemia and only feed high fibre, low carbohydrate and low sugar products. It is best to avoid feeding cereal mixes and molasses products. In order for the horse to maintain a healthy hindgut, a probiotic supplement can be added to the horse’s diet. Good quality grass hay is the perfect feed for equine health for horses prone to equine laminitis.

      Restrict grass intake by using electric tape to strip graze. Ponies can survive on very little. The grass is very high in soluble carbohydrates (fructans), which can lead to laminitis if ingested in large amounts, especially in spring and autumn. Sometimes turning a horse out at night and bringing it in during the day can help as there are fewer fructans in the grass at night. As soon as the horse/pony becomes slightly lame or ‘pottery’, remove it from the grass until it is completely sound.

      Do not turn a horse out on lush or frosted grass. Try to work with the landowner to decrease the sugary ryegrasses and clover in the sward and allow more traditional grasses and herbs to flourish. Turn out a group of ponies that need the same management together. This will minimise stress, keep them occupied and allow them to carry out normal behaviours whilst still being restricted. This will also prevent depression. Always turn horses out with at least one companion.

      Strip Grazing: The Perfect Tool For Horsekeeping

      Maintain general horse health and care

      It’s important to maintain a good exercise programme to prevent obesity especially in the months leading up to spring when the grass is at it’s richest.

      Ensure a farrier attends to their feet strictly every four to five weeks, depending on the horse. This will ensure that the foot is in the best possible condition to prevent laminitis. Feed supplements can be given to promote good hoof growth.

      There are also a number of checks you can do to stay on top of your horse’s health:

      • Check the horse’s crest on a regular basis; if it becomes hard, remove the horse from the grass immediately until it softens.
      • Check the horse’s digital pulse daily as changes can then be detected quickly and the appropriate action can be taken.
      • Make sure the horse/pony is wormed regularly following a vet-approved programme.

      If your horse is affected by Laminitis or other painful hoof conditions, talk to us today about the options available to assist.

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