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What To Feed a Horse With Laminitis

Laminitis is a painful condition that can affect a horse's ability to move around, decreasing their quality of life. Nutritional issues may be a factor in its development. Here, our Ocala equine vets discuss laminitis in horses, how nutrition affects their condition and what you should feed laminitic horses.

What is lameness in horses?

Often, lameness is the first sign that there is a deeper medical issue at hand. While you may not be all that concerned if your horse experiences a slight change in gait, identifying the issue can prevent serious complications from occurring later on. Once the cause of the lameness is diagnosed, treatment can target the issue. While lameness is often associated with foot or leg issues, it can originate in either bone or soft tissue and affect any part of the bone. Laminitis is a specific condition that can result in lameness. But what causes laminitis?

Do nutritional issues cause laminitis?

Laminitis is a symptom rather than a condition, which means that it is one of many signs of an underlying condition. In this blog post, we will focus on the impact of nutrition on laminitis, including carbohydrate (CHO) overload, insulin resistance (IR) and obesity. 

Carbohydrate Overload (CHO)

CHO overload is the consumption of excessive amounts of cereal grain. Some non-structural CHO is undigested in the small intestine and passes through to the large intestine, where it can cause a disturbance in gut health. In the case of cereal grains, the NSC (nonstructural carbohydrates) is in the form of starch. Starch is not digested in the foregut but is fermented by the microbes. CHO overload in particulate starch has been one of the most researched aspects of laminitis in recent years. That said, there are also cases of pasture-associated laminitis.

Particular conditions, like cooler weather, support the accumulation of NSCs like fructans. These NSCs are sugars that help the plant to survive and regrow. So when the weather becomes damaging, the plant overproduces these to ensure survival. Unfortunately, horses do not produce enzymes that can digest fructans. This means these rapidly fermented sugars pass into the large intestine, where they can disrupt the hindgut health just as a large amount of undigested starch would. Along with the time of year, the fructan content of grass can be impacted by many other environmental factors, including time of day, temperature, sunlight and rainfall.

Insulin-Resistance (IR)

It has recently been discovered that horses with insulin resistance (IR) have an increased risk of developing laminitis. The pancreas is responsible for releasing insulin as your horse eats. Insulin and insulin receptors allow the glucose in the bloodstream to enter the cells within the body. This glucose becomes energy that the cells use to function. With IR, the cells become resistant to insulin, so the normal amount of insulin no longer works. This means that the pancreas will begin to overproduce insulin, resulting in raised levels of glucose. Once these levels become excessively elevated, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia is a condition that requires veterinary care and can cause symptoms like excessive thirst, urination, nausea and dizziness.


While there is a known connection between laminitis in horses and obesity, little research has been done in this area. The main connection lies in the development of insulin resistance in obese horses. This is most commonly seen in horses with pasture-associated laminitis.

Managing a Horse’s Laminitis Through Diet

If you spot any signs of laminitis in your horse, such as pain or change in gait, please get in touch with your equine vet right away to schedule a lameness evaluation. Regarding the nutritional management of laminitis, you should take your horse off pasture and feed that contains high levels of NSCs, like cereal grains. You should then put them on a low NSC hay or horse feed designed for laminitis. If you cannot procure low NSC hay, you can soak your hay in warm water for half an hour or cold water for an hour. This will reduce the level of NSCs. This method should not be used for long periods.

Supplements for Horses With Laminitis

Feeding a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is vital, especially if you are feeding them soaked hay or a laminitic horse feed. Choose supplements that are designed to improve gut health. Many of these will contain yeast, which can also help restore and maintain guthealth in horses.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding equine animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please contact your vet.

Is your horse showing signs of lameness, like a change in gait or physical pain when walking or trotting? Contact our veterinary team at Florida Equine Veterinary Associates today to schedule a lameness examination.

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