Laminitis: Is Global Warming at Fault?

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This pony is demonstrating the typical stance of a horse that is in pain from laminitis. It is stretching its legs out in front to get weight off painful hoof tissue. If you ever see your horse or pony standing like this, and reluctant to move, take immediate action. Call your veterinarian. Laminitis is a medical emergency. (Photo courtesy of International League for the Protection of Horses)

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Spillers, the British feed manufacturer, thinks the answer to that question might be "yes!"

In a press release issued this spring, Spillers is warning horse and pony owners of the impact that climate change could have on horses and ponies prone to laminitis. Here's an excerpt:

In the coming years, laminitis really could be the single biggest risk to your horse's health. The climate is changing and the seasons are beginning to merge into each other. Milder wetter winters are countered by unpredictable summers that bring about flooding or droughts and this can have a severely detrimental knock on effect to our horses and ponies.

Horses and ponies have evolved to eat a variety of grasses, plants and shrubs that are typically of low nutrient value and in particular are lower in soluble carbohydrate (sugar) but the pasture that we keep horses on today tends to be much richer. With our milder winters too, grass is tending to grow all year round now. Recent research worryingly suggests that the nutrient value of winter grass is now very similar to spring/summer grass.

This less seasonal and more consistent grass growth has many implications for your horse and the way you manage him. Laminitis is one such implication and although traditionally the condition is seen more often during the traditional seasonal grass growth in the spring and autumn, laminitis is now a real risk throughout the whole year.

Clare Lockyer RNutr, nutritionist and research and development manager at Spillers says: "Don't ignore the predisposing signs in your horse or pony, such as a cresty neck, sore feet or a change in hoof shape, as these are all warning signs. It is at this time that you have the chance to take preventative action because waiting until it happens could prove disastrous for your horse."

If you think your horse or pony could be prone to laminitis, it is sensible to provide a high fiber, low starch and sugar, low calorie diet and more exercise.

Note: In recent years, many laminitis-prone horses have benefited from a bagged forage product with low-sugar formulation criteria. Spillers makes a special feed just for this purpose; their "Happy Hoof" is the original complete chopped fibre feed to be approved by the Laminitis Trust. However, it seems that it is not sold any longer in the USA.