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How should I feed my laminitic pony?
Causes of laminitis: Laminitis is a disease which can be triggered by a number of different situations including feed overload, obesity, toxaemia, trauma and some drugs, such as corticosteroids.
Prevention and managements of horses and ponies with laminitis:
- Monitor your horse’s body weight and condition - Obesity is a predisposing factor in the onset of laminitis. Do not allow your horse to get too fat – weigh and condition score every two weeks using a weigh tape and condition score card (you can purchase them from Dodson & Horrell!) Although it is important that your pony loses some weight, it is crucial that this happens gradually.
- Do not starve your horse – Commonly owners are led to believe that they should starve a pony with laminitis, but would you starve an ill person? It is vital that the pony with laminitis receives a fibrous diet supplemented with minerals and vitamins to keep their metabolism working. By restricting fibre intake too much you may risk inducing hyperlipaemia. This occurs when high levels of fat are released into blood in response to starvation and can be fatal.
- Give them a high fibre diet – It is a good idea to have your hay analysed to establish its feed value (Dodson and Horrell offer a forage testing service for a small fee). If your hay was found to have a high feed value, you could try soaking it for 12 hours before feeding it. This will "leach" some of the energy from the hay – thereby helping to reduce your horse’s calorie intake. Another method of providing a high fibre, low calorie diet, which can help to control weight gain, is to “dilute” the hay with good quality oat straw (50:50). However, feeding straw is not advised for horses with dental problems because straw is coarser and less digestible then hay and does require thorough chewing. Straw is also not advised for horses prone to colic.
- Avoid lush grass – The flush of grass growth in spring and autumn are well-known risk factors for laminitics, but I would also recommend that you avoid frosty pasture in the winter. Recent research suggests that the fructan concentration in grass is higher at this time. If you do need to turn out on frosty grass then may I suggest that you provide hay in the paddock to discourage them from eating the grass until it has thawed. Using an equine muzzle or strip grazing can also help to limit your horse’s grass intake.
- Feed a balanced diet – Forage alone will not provide your horse with all the essential minerals and vitamins, particularly the antioxidants she requires. To ensure your pony receives a completely balanced diet I recommend feeding a feed balancer e.g. Ultimate Balancer. Ultimate Balancer also contains MSM, an anti-inflammatory, which may help to reduce any inflammation as a result of the laminitis. Alternatively you could feed a fully fortified chaff such as Safe & Sound. Both Ultimate Balancer and Safe and Sound contain Dodson & Horrell’s unique Quality Life Care (QLC) antioxidant package.
- Important new research carried out by Dr R. Neville and Dodson & Horrell has shown that horses and ponies suffering from chronic laminitis produce higher levels of free radicals in their body.
- These free radicals damage the body's cells and tissues including muscles and DNA, through the process of oxidation. Furthermore, it is now thought that free radical damage may actually be involved in the pathology of laminitis.
- Dietary antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium and copper neutralise free radicals, thereby preventing them from damaging the body.
- Studies by Dodson & Horrell have shown that the best way to enhance the total antioxidant defence system of the horse is to feed a combination of classical dietary antioxidants and key plant components (Lowe, 2002). For instance, the horse can only use Vitamin E once, although if other antioxidants are present Vitamin E can be recycled and used to neutralise more free radicals.
- Providing supplementary antioxidants in the diet of horses and ponies prone to laminitis is essential. Many Dodson & Horrell feeds contain QLC, a unique antioxidant package.
I have an elderly horse that is no longer able to chew hay or haylage and has limited turn out. What can I feed her as an alternative?
If you have an older horse that is struggling to chew hay and haylage, fibre intake is likely to be considerably reduced. Fibre is an essential dietary requirement for any horse. As a guide, your horse should receive at least 2-2.5% of their bodyweight as dry forage each day to ensure healthy digestive function. It is vital that you replace the forage that your horse in not receiving and this can be done by creating what is commonly referred to as a 'haynet in a bucket.'
Our forage replacer recipe is recommended by the Veteran Horse Society and combines Dodson & Horrell High Fibre Nuts, KwikBeet and Alfalfa. The feeding guideline is 600g dry weight of each component per 100kg of body weight. Therefore, a horse with an ideal weight of 500kg would require 3kg of each product per day. This quantity should preferably be divided into several small meals and spread throughout the day in order to try mimic normal feeding behaviour.