It was once thought that horses with laminitis should simply be put down because they were unsound and un-rideable. Today, we know that this isn’t true. A horse who has had an episode of laminitis is more likely to have another episode, but it is possible to prevent laminitis problems and promote good hoof health and soundness by making good choices in feed and hay and making smart use of tools to help prevent overindulgence on the part of your horse.
In this article, we discuss the correct types and amounts of feed and hay for horses with laminitis. We also share some good ideas about the use of hay nets and feeders and simple scheduling to prevent your horse from overdoing, gaining too much weight and suffering a laminitis attack. Read on to learn more on what to feed a horse with laminitis.
What You'll Learn Today
Read The Label
When shopping for feed and hay for your laminitic horse, be sure to check the calorie content or digestible energy content of the product. Horses who are overweight should not receive feed mixtures that are dense in calories.
Avoid feed mixes that contain a great deal of starch and sugar. Look for premixed, complete feeds that are low in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC). These are simple sugars, fructans and simple carbohydrates that digest as sugar.
Avoid Excessively Rich Hay
Make certain that your horse has access to a good mixed grass hay and a reduced calorie concentrate or a ration balancer pellet that provides ample vitamins, minerals and proteins while restricting calorie content.
Finding safe hay can be challenging. Avoid very rich hay (such as heavily fertilized Coastal Bermuda and alfalfa).
Hay that is grown as a mono-crop, heavily fertilized and treated with herbicides and pesticides is not healthy.
It’s better to use a fresh, unfertilized mixed grass hay that provides ample roughage without dense calories, sugar and chemicals.
Soak Sugary Hay
If your access to natural hay is limited and you must use a very rich hay, you may want to soak it before presenting it to your horse. To do this, simply place your horse’s hay ration in a tote and fill it with water.
If you have access to hot water, you should soak the hay for half an hour. If you must use cold water, soak the hay for an hour. When the time is up, drain off the water and rinse the hay.
This is also a good way to prevent problems with dust and a small amount of mold spores. Naturally, you should never feed moldy hay rinsed or not, but there are some mold spores on all hay. Rinsing washes them away.
Always Be Sure To Feed The Right Amount
Once you’ve chosen a good, low sugar, low carbohydrate complete feed, be sure to feed the right amount.
Begin by reading the instructions on the bag. These usually provide the minimum amount necessary to keep the average horse healthy. Start with this amount and adjust as needed.
Be sure to measure correctly. You’ll find that the instructions on the feed bag tell you to measure by the pound. This is important.
Not all feeds weigh the same amount. A half a coffee can may contain 3 pounds of bran, but it may contain much less or much more of a complete feed. The weight per ounce or pound is just simply different from one type of feed to another.
When it comes to forage, horses typically eat about 2% of their body weight in forage every day. Horses who tend to have metabolic problems and to develop laminitis easily may need less than that.
Start out by feeding your horse no more than 1.5% of his body weight in grass and hay combined. If your horse weighs about 1100 pounds, this means that he should have between 13 and 17 pounds of hay a day.
Be sure to never feed your horse less than 1% of his body weight in forage daily. Doing so can cause digestive difficulties.
Just as with feed, you should always weigh your horse’s hay before presenting it to him (and before soaking it).
Tip: Buy a digital fish scale to weigh your horse’s feed and hay.
Use Smart Tools To Prevent Your Horse Overindulging in Grass, Hay & Feed
Scheduling is an important tool in maintaining your horse’s correct weight and good health.
Remember that horses are grazers and are built to nibble throughout the day, not to eat one or two big meals daily.
If you are able to provide your horse with small amounts of grain several times a day, it will be much better for him than providing one big bucket of feed at the end of the day.
At the very least, divide your horse’s grain ration into two portions, morning and evening.
Make sure that your horse uses healthy grazing tactics when eating his forage. Put hay in slow feeder nets to provide a little challenge and slow your horse down so that his hay ration will last all day.
During turnout time, you may wish to outfit your horse with a grazing muzzle. This is especially true in the springtime when grass is rich and lush.
A grazing muzzle allows your horse to enjoy grass at a slow pace rather than overindulging.
If your horse is extremely sensitive to the sugars in grass, you may need to eliminate turnout on grass entirely and simply let your horse have his exercise time on a dry lot.
Consult An Expert
Be sure to consult with your veterinarian when you are designing a feeding plan for your horse. Be careful not to change the way you feed your horse frequently or abruptly.
Once you’ve begun a new feeding plan, stick with it for 2 to 4 weeks to see how it works. Understand that you will not see results immediately.
How Should I Feed A Horse With A History Of Laminitis?
Frequently Asked Questions
Most cases of laminitis are EL, a type of laminitis that is symptomatic of Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). This type of laminitis may occur as a result of use of corticosteroids to treat other conditions. Horses who are sedentary and overweight are most likely to develop this type of laminitis.
PAL is a form of EL that is typically caused by unrestricted grazing on rich grass.
Horses who have ailments such as acidosis or colitis are prone to develop SAL. It may also occur in mares who have given birth without fully expelling the placenta. If the placenta becomes infected, sepsis sets in. This type of laminitis if quite rare, and develops in horses who are very ill and exhibiting symptoms such as high temperature, diarrhea, high white blood count and/or high levels of lactose in the blood.
If a horse experiences an injury in one leg (e.g. a bone fracture or an inflamed joint) that causes him or her to favor that leg and put a great deal of weight on the opposite limb for an extended period of time, SLL can develop due to stress in the limb bearing excessive weight.
Horses who develop laminitis due to rich diet do so because their metabolism is sensitive to that diet. Just like diabetic humans, horses who tend to laminitis must remain on approved, low starch, low sugar diets to keep the condition under control. They must get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight to prevent a recurrence of the malady.