Recent research into laminitis in horses has made significant strides in understanding, preventing, and treating this complex condition. Breakthroughs span from the molecular underpinnings of the disease to practical treatment strategies and preventive measures.

One key area of advancement is the identification of genetic components and inflammatory processes that contribute to laminitis. Researchers have discovered a collection of genes responsible for triggering inflammation in the hoof, a pivotal step towards laminitis. This opens the door to potential treatments that could involve medications used for human autoimmune disorders, aiming to target these inflammatory processes directly. Additionally, the study of metalloproteinases, enzymes that help maintain the hoof's structural integrity, has revealed the delicate balance required to prevent laminitis. The insights from this research suggest that treatments need to carefully manage these enzymes to prevent the hoof from losing its strength without inhibiting its growth[1]​​.

Another significant development is the understanding of the role of adiponectin, an anti-inflammatory hormone produced by adipose tissue. Research has shown that lower levels of adiponectin are associated with a higher risk of developing laminitis, highlighting its potential as a biomarker for early detection and as a target for therapeutic intervention[2]​​​​[3].

Exercise has been identified as a beneficial factor, with regular low-intensity activity shown to improve the anti-inflammatory capacity in animals with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), potentially reducing the risk of laminitis[4]​​.

Treatment strategies for acute Hyperinsulinemia-Associated Laminitis (HAL) have become more aggressive, focusing on cooling the hoof, diet restriction, and medication to rapidly lower blood insulin levels. The use of medications such as metformin and sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 inhibitors (SGLT2i) has been recommended, alongside monitoring blood insulin levels to guide the adjustment of treatment plans​​[5].

Furthermore, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has been leading in the epidemiological study of laminitis, investigating factors such as the seasonality of the condition, the impact of obesity, and the management of risk factors such as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). Their research includes studies on the effectiveness of different management strategies, the role of adiponectin, and the exploration of new preventive measures based on dietary and pharmacologic interventions​​[6]. 

These advancements represent a comprehensive approach to tackling laminitis, combining detailed molecular understanding with practical treatment and management strategies. While much progress has been made, ongoing research is crucial for developing more effective preventive measures and treatments to alleviate this debilitating condition in horses.

Understanding Laminitis and Its Link to Diet

While various factors can trigger laminitis, diet plays a crucial role in both its development and management.

Laminitis often results from excessive intake of carbohydrates, specifically fructans found in lush pastures, or from overfeeding grains rich in starch and sugars. These dietary missteps can lead to a cascade of metabolic disruptions, culminating in the inflammation of the sensitive laminae inside the hoof. Ponies, in particular, are highly susceptible due to their efficiency in digesting and converting food into energy, making diet management paramount in these equines.

Diet Restriction: A Preventive Measure

Diet restriction is pivotal in preventing laminitis, especially in equines prone to the condition or those already suffering from metabolic disorders like Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) or Cushing's Disease. The goal is to limit the intake of non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs), including sugars, starch, and fructans, which are the main dietary culprits in triggering laminitis.

A low-NSC diet typically comprises high-quality hay with a known NSC content of less than 12%. It's essential to test hay for NSC levels and, if necessary, soak it to reduce its sugar content further. Restricting access to lush pastures, especially during peak fructan accumulation times (early morning and late afternoon), is also critical.

However, when restricting the diet of a horse or pony suffering from or prone to laminitis, it’s essential that they continue to receive optimal levels of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals and this is where a Feed Balancers become invaluable. A quality Balancer such as TopSpec AntiLam Forage Balancer specifically fills the nutritional gaps left by limited grazing and reduced feed intake, ensuring the horse gets all the necessary nutrients without the excess calories that can exacerbate laminitis.

A weighty issue: The importance of monitoring your horse’s weight

Understanding your horse’s optimum weight and monitoring it plays a crucial role in the control and prevention of laminitis. Early detection and intervention if your horse of pony is gaining weight can significantly reduce the severity of laminitis, making weight monitoring an essential part of equine healthcare and management.

There are now several companies throughout the UK that offer mobile horse weighbridge services, so run a quick google search to find one local to your area. We can highly recommend Kelly at Horse Weighbridge North East who provides a mobile weight and body condition service, as well as offering grazing muzzle advice, fitting and sales.

 

Slow Feeding: Mimicking Natural Grazing Patterns

Slow feeding not only aids in diet restriction but also aligns with the natural grazing behaviour of equines, promoting better digestive health and reducing the risk of developing laminitis. By using slow feeders or hay nets with small openings such as Trickle Net, horses and ponies are forced to eat more slowly, extending their feeding time and mimicking their natural grazing patterns. This method helps stabilise blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of insulin spikes that can contribute to laminitis.

Slow feeding also has the added benefit of preventing boredom and associated behavioural issues, promoting a more natural and healthier eating pace, and supporting digestive health. It ensures that equines have a constant forage supply, crucial for their gut health and overall well-being.

It’s still vital, however, that your horse or pony receives enough forage on a daily basis. Feeding too much can lead to weight gain but feeding too little can potentially cause serious digestive and metabolic disorders, such as ulcers, colic, and even malnutrition.

We built the Trickle Net Forage Calculator with guidance from equine nutrition specialist Louisa Taylor BVM BVS (Hons) BVMedSci (Hons) to allow you to calculate how much forage your horse really needs. You never know, it could even save you money!

Trickle Net Small Bale Net

On Track: Track Grazing to Enhance Health and Management for Laminitic Horses

Track grazing is growing in popularity as horse owners become increasingly aware of its benefits for equine health and welfare in general and for laminitic horses and ponies in particular.

This system is an approach to pasture management where horses are kept on narrow, fenced pathways around the edges of fields or through paddocks, encouraging them to move and forage naturally. By moving continuously along the track to access different zones for feeding, watering, and resting, horses naturally exercise, which can help improve insulin sensitivity and overall metabolic health. Additionally, the varied terrain of a track system can aid in the natural wear of hooves and encourage stronger hoof growth, a vital aspect of laminitic horse care.

We’re huge fans of track grazing here at Trickle Net as not only does it address the dietary needs of horses at risk of laminitis by offering a controlled grazing environment but it also enhances their physical and mental well-being through increased activity and environmental enrichment.

 

 

The Role of Muzzles in Laminitis Prevention

Overeating, particularly on lush pasture, is a well-known trigger for laminitis. To combat this, grazing muzzles have been redesigned with the welfare of the horse in mind. Modern muzzles are now much more comfortable and reduce the risk of rubs and sores that can occur with prolonged use.

By controlling access to high-risk pastures while allowing horses to breathe and drink freely, grazing muzzles serve as a crucial tool in laminitis prevention and management, especially during peak grass growth seasons.

 

Hoof Boots: A Step Forward in Laminitis Care

For horses and ponies already suffering from laminitis, the development of specialised hoof boots has been a game-changer in pain management and recovery. These boots are designed to provide support to the sole and help relieve pain by redistributing weight away from the affected areas of the hoof. The latest models incorporate advanced materials that mimic the natural shock-absorbing properties of a healthy hoof, promoting comfort and mobility.

Innovative features such as adjustable sizing, breathable fabrics, and durable, anti-slip soles make these boots more effective and comfortable for long-term wear than in past designs. Some boots also offer therapeutic insoles that can be customised to address specific needs, such as additional cushioning or support. 

The choice of hoof boots now available on the market can be almost overwhelming! So we would recommend talking to an expert such as UrbanHorse who will be able to advise you on the best type for your horse and guide you through choosing the correct size and fitting process. 

Slow and Steady Wins the Race: How Trickle Net Nets Transform the Health of Laminitic Horses and Ponies

Domestication has forced a diet and eating regime on our horses that isn’t appropriate or natural for them, transitioning them from natural trickle grazers of diverse vegetation to recipients of a narrow range of cultivated feeds, including hay, haylage and commercially prepared horse feeds.

While many of the positive developments discussed above are helping to improve equine health and welfare, the fact is that when a horse is fed forage, it must stand still to eat it and so movement is reduced.

It’s also a fact that when forage is fed ad lib loose or out of ‘normal’ hay nets, many horses and ponies will simply eat too much, predisposing them to weight gain and, in some cases, laminitis.

Slow feed hay nets such as Trickle Net are a great step forward in managing the feeding habits of horses and ponies, especially those suffering from laminitis, and are the closest we can get to giving our horses the natural feeding processes that are so essential for optimal health.

The principle behind Trickle Net is simple yet effective: by mimicking horses’ natural slow feeding grazing patterns, these nets slow down the rate at which horses consume their hay or haylage, extending their feeding time over the same volume of hay, helping to prevent weight gain and promoting better digestive health.

Science-Backed: Why Trickle Net Leads in Slow Feeder Solutions

We are confident that our Trickle Net slow feeder nets are the best slow feeder small hole haynets you can buy! Not only are they the strongest, most effective slow feed nets on the market, they’re also the only nets that are backed by a scientific research program.

At Trickle Net we work with a number of universities to undertake independent, dedicated research into exactly how our slow feed haynets can optimise equine health and feeding behaviors. That’s why we can 100% stand over our products and why 95% of our customers say they would recommend Trickle Net nets to friends!

Our products are also recommended by vets for the management of laminitis and although we know Trickle Net nets are more expensive than others on the market, the fact is that they will last you far longer, be easier to handle and fill, and will save you money in the long run.

The investment you make in a Trickle Net haynet will be paid back quite quickly. Not only will you have zero waste, but by slowing down your horse’s eating patterns, you can reduce the total amount of forage you feed, whilst also maximising chew time. A win for you and a win for your horse! 

As a quick example, our research shows that our Trickle Net Round Bale Net can double the length of time it takes to eat a big round bale of hay. And you won’t end up with half the bale trampled into the mud! 

Head over to the Forage Calculator to discover just how much you could save by choosing to feed with Trickle Net. 

 

 

References

[1] https://phys.org/news/2021-12-laminitis-insights-future-treatment.html

[2] https://thehorse.com/1124364/whats-new-in-preventing-and-treating-laminitis-in-horses/

[3] https://www.rvc.ac.uk/equine-vet/research/current-projects/laminitis-research

[4] https://www.rvc.ac.uk/equine-vet/research/current-projects/laminitis-research

[5] https://thehorse.com/1124364/whats-new-in-preventing-and-treating-laminitis-in-horses/

[6] https://www.rvc.ac.uk/equine-vet/research/current-projects/laminitis-research