Spring grass not only tends to have a lush, rich appearance, but is highly appetizing to most horses. However, experienced, well-read horse people are all too aware of the problems that the high starch content present in many spring grasses can cause. Laminitis, especially prevalent in the spring but quickly becoming a problem, year-round, is a condition which causes chronic foot problems, lameness and even anatomical changes in the horse. Should your horse or pony be diagnosed with laminitis, you are probably looking at a fairly long-term recovery period. Careful management of your pony or horse’s health will need to be ongoing, normally for the rest of his life. As an
owner, this can be confusing. It may be difficult to know what to alter and how to make the changes. Hence, the need to understand the current school of thought regarding recommended diet management methods for horses with laminitis.
One of the main aims of the management program for a laminitic is to ensure that any weight loss is gradual and once the ideal weight is achieved, that it is carefully maintained. The most accurate way to weigh a horse is to use livestock scales, however most owners do not have access to this tool and as such, need to calculate their animal’s weight based on certain measurements.
A weight tape allows the owner to make an estimate based on an equation comprised of some of the horse’s specific measurements. The easiest way to carry out this method is to measure the horse’s body length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock. You should then measure heart girth around the midsection, behind the elbow, and beyond the highest part of the withers. Using the following equation, you can estimate his weight.
Weight (in pounds) = [(heart girth in inches) x (heart girth in inches) x (body length in inches)] / 330.
In conjunction with an estimated weight, it is recommended to assess the horse’s body condition scores (BCS) which will provide an indication of whether the horse has too much body fat.
It is recommended that these measurements are repeated every two weeks at the same time of day and prior to feeding.
Is Your Horse Being Fed Correctly?
Overfeeding is one of the biggest culprits in equine laminitis. Laminitics, or horses prone to the condition, do not usually require substantial concentrated feed on top of hay, common sense tells us that extra calories are not necessary for an overweight horse. The basis of the diet of a laminitic should be based on around 1.5% - 2% of the horse’s bodyweight in high quality hay, soaked to remove the excess sugar (link to soaking art). If you wish to add a supplement to ensure supply of complete vitamins and minerals, particularly if the horse is in full work or competing, consider any number of specialty horse supplements, those designed to be lower in calories and sugars. Should you wish to add grain for extra energy, be sure to consult very carefully with a veterinarian being doing so.
Tips for feeding the laminitic
In addition to monitoring the horse or pony’s weight and selecting the right feeds, it’s critical that you feed the right amounts of each feed type. Adherence to the right maintenance plan will help your horse lose weight and potentially avoid further laminitic episodes. Feeding tips for laminitics include:
Diet is imperative when it comes to helping a laminitic horse avoid long term discomfort and recurrent issues. The best idea is to formulate a strict feeding regimen, in conjunction with your veterinarian and to stick to it, monitoring the situation closely with your veterinarian’s assistance.
If you're unsure about what type of feed would suit your horse best, or if you have questions about feeding a laminitic, contact your veterinarian or equine nutritionist for advice.
*Image courtesy of A.Daff
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