Performance Horse Nutrition

Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae of the foot. The laminae are tiny finger like structures in the hoof that interlock to join the coffin bone to the hoof wall effectively suspending the bones of the foot inside the hoof wall. Inflammation damages the laminae making them unable to hold the coffin bone in place. With the weight of the horse pushing the coffin bone toward the ground and the pull of the deep digital flexor tendon rotating the coffin bone, the coffin bone will sink and rotate within the hoof. This process is extremely painful to the horse and results in lameness. Laminitis is the result of many disease conditions. Risk factors for developing laminitis include: carbohydrate (sugar, starch, fructan) overload, colic, diarrhea, excessive concussion, retained placenta, drug reactions, systemic infection, injury, obesity, genetics, and insulin resistance. Controlling the risk factors and preventing laminitis is easier than the cure. Nutrition counter measures to avoid laminitis include the following. The base diet should consist of forage and fiber rather than sugar and starch. Low carbohydrate feeds are available commercially and should be fed to these horses. If horses need to gain condition, consider adding dietary fat (vegetable oil) as an energy source. Only feed grain that has been physically processed (ground, rolled, crimped, pelleted) to prevent undigested grain from reaching the hindgut and causing digestive upset and laminitis. Feed smaller more frequent meals rather than large single meals. Make all dietary changes slowly (7-10 days). Control body weight and body condition with regular exercise to prevent obesity and insulin resistance. Horses should be maintained in a body condition score between 4 and 6. Consider not grazing at risk horses. If grazing is allowed, using a grazing muzzle and grazing early in the morning can help reduce the ingestion of high sugar grasses.

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