SPRING IS HIGH SEASON FOR LAMINITIS
The first flush of spring pasture growth means an increased risk of laminitis, the painful inflammation of the soft tissue of the hooves that can lead to permanent disability or euthanasia. Some horses are more prone to pasture-associated laminitis, also called endocrinopathic laminitis. In those with a history of the condition, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), even small amounts of sugars or starches from new pasture grass can trigger laminitis. Horses can also develop chronic subclinical laminitis that makes them footsore rather than overtly lame, even as irreversible damage occurs inside their hooves. Take these steps to protect your horse from laminitis:
Assess the laminitis risk of each horse in your herd. Talk to your veterinarian before the spring grass starts coming in if you are unsure about a horse’s susceptibility to laminitis. Then tailor your management to his needs. You may, for example, use a grazing muzzle ( see below) to reduce a horse’s grass intake or, if his risk is high, you may decide to keep him on a dry lot until pasture growth slows or stops.
Use a grazing muzzle on at-risk horses. Not only can too much spring grass increase the risk of laminitis, but it can also lead to colic, diarrhea and obesity. A variety of grazing muzzles are available, most of which can be adjusted to control the amount of grass a horse consumes. It may require a bit of trial and error to find a style that fits your horse and your budget, but when you find one that works, consider purchasing two: If one is lost in the pasture, you’ll have a backup. You don’t want an at-risk horse to spend even a single day with unfettered access to spring pasture. While your horse may look sad or frustrated when you keep him from grazing, don’t let your emotions put him at risk for serious health problems.
Look out for the earliest signs of laminitis. The sooner an episode is detected, the better a horse’s chance of survival. In the first stages of laminitis a horse may have strong, “bounding” pulses in both front fetlocks so check these daily in those at risk. Also, pay close attention to how at-risk horses move: Long before the dramatic “rocked back” posture and reluctance to move at all, a horse with laminitis may appear a little footsore or hesitant on hard or uneven footing.
If you suspect your horse may be developing laminitis, call your veterinarian immediately and take action. Research has shown that dramatically cooling hooves can slow or halt damage to the laminae, but only if started in the first hours of the process. Special icing boots can lower the temperature of the feet sufficiently, but standing the horse in a bucket of ice water is also effective, if more labor intensive. Time is of the essence. Don’t “wait and see” if the horse will move better tomorrow, or even later that afternoon.
PORTION CONTROL: Most grazing muzzles can be adjusted to limit the amount of grass a horse consumes.