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The true cause of laminitis is still unclear, but there are a number of situations that may lead to the condition. Most commonly, these are:

         Excess of rich grass. Typically this is grass high in soluble carbohydrate in the spring and Autumn.

         Feed overload when a horse breaks into a feed bin for example or when a horse is given very large meals.

         Obesity. Overweight animals will be more susceptible to laminitis.

         Toxaemia, i.e. toxins circulating in the blood stream. This can be
caused by a number of things such as diarrhoea, peritonitis or metritis form a retained placenta after foaling.

         Trauma. Excess concussion (driving horses are particularly prone) or uneven weight bearing when one limb is immobilised due to an injury can cause an attack.

         Some drugs, particularly corticosteriods, may result in increased constriction in the arteries of the foot which will restrict blood flow.

         Stress may make horses more prone to developing laminitis. When stressed from a long journey for example, a horse will release higher levels of corticosteroid hormones which may have a similar effect to administered steroids.

         Dietary contribution An excess of lush grass, or an overload of hard feed can lead to laminitis. The path of events that leads to this laminitis is thought to be as follows:

         Too much food in the stomach. Soluble carbohydrate that should be digested in the small intestine overflows into the hind gut.

         The bacterial balance in the hind gut is upset and bacteria that prefer soluble carbohydrate proliferate and take over from fibre-digesting bacteria.

         Death and rupture of the fibre-digesting bacteria due to acid conditions leads to endotoxins (poisons) being released. The acid environment also makes the gut wall more permeable (leaky) and toxins enter the blood stream. Blood circulation and pressure is affected and laminitis will follow.

Feeding and Management if the horse has laminitis

  • Commonly owners are led to believe that they should starve a horse or pony with laminitis, but would you starve an ill person? It is vital that the horse or pony with laminitis receives a fibrous diet supplemented with minerals and vitamins to keep the metabolism working.

  • Remove the cause of the disease.

  • Do not starve the animal completely or you may risk inducing hyperlipeamia. This occurs when high levels of fat are released into blood in response to starvation.

  • Use an alfalfa or alfalfa/straw chaff to provide available calcium
    in the diet as it has been suggested that laminitics are calcium deficient. Feed an alfalfa based chaff with a mineral and vitamin supplement as a compliment to hay and water.

    To minimise the risk of  laminitis

  • Prevention is by far preferable to cure.

  • Reduce the exposure the horse has to causes of laminitis.

  • Do not allow your pony or horse to get too fat.

  • Ensure your farrier is called to trim the feet regularly.

  • Restrict grazing especially in the spring. Be aware there is often a grass flush in the autumn.

  • Use a muzzle for short periods if you are unable to strip graze or manage the pasture. One with a grid on the bottom will allow the pony to drink and nibble.

  • Provide hay and/or straw if pony is stabled or in a bare paddock.

  • Feed a low carbohydrate, high fibre diet. Consider using a mineral and vitamin supplement to provide a balanced diet, if you are feeding below recommended quantities of compound feed.

    Identifying Laminitis

  • Horse shifts weight from side to side

  • Difficulty walking

  • Hooves warm to touch

  • Strong pounding pulse at digital artery around fetlock

  • Horse rocks back off front feet to keep weight off them

    Six steps to help prevent Laminitis

  • Feed liberal quantities of forage

  • Make changes in concentrate feed slowly over a two-week period

  • Keep all concentrate feeds small (under 5lbs per feed for a 16hh
    horse, under 3lbs for a 13hh horse). If more feed is needed add another feed (meal)

  • Watch your horse's weight. If obese, try to control feed intake.

  • Feed a high oil, high fibre coarse mix or feed a high fibre cube

    Advice on the Management of a Laminitic

  • Feed bulk roughage with a low feed value, such as oat straw

  • Reduce hay and bulk out with straw ("dilute")

  • Turn out on sand arenas for some of the time, if no other turn out is available.

  • Use electric fencing to restrict access to grass

  • Beg, borrow or buy sheep or cattle to keep the grass down

  • Increase workload before increasing feed

  • Use oil as an energy source i.e. Soya Oil or Pure Vegetable Oil

  • Feed little and often, so you do not overload the stomach

  • Do not overfeed or feed in anticipation of work

  • Consider fructan concentrations when turning out

  • Do not turn out on frosted paddocks

  • Consider whether you should turn out on bare paddocks; using a muzzle on less stressed pastures may be better

    Feeding the Laminitic

    When your horse/pony has had laminitis:-

  • Feed at least 1% of body weight as forage (hay +/or oat straw) split into frequent meals

  • Feed frequent small meals

  • Feed a suitable supplement to provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals

    As your horse/pony recovers consider the following to decrease risk of another attack:-

  • Keep cereals in the diet to a minimum

  • Use slow releasing energy sources such as fibre and oil

  • Control weight gain, maintain body condition at less than 3.

Laminitis....What causes Laminitis?
Teresa Hollands BSc(Hons) MSc(Nutrition); Dodson and Horrell.
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