Food as the language of love: can I still give my horse treats?
We all love to feed our four-legged sports and leisure partners. Every rider wants to be able to offer a treat here and there, and rare is the horse that will say no to a tasty reward from your hand or his feed trough. If your horse has laminitis, it can be hard to resist the urge to feed him extra treats, especially if he’s on a strict weight loss diet. Horses in this situation are often quite frustrated and seem hungry.
But every extra in the ration means more calories that can have a negative effect on the disease and increase the risk of recurrence. Avoid all unnecessary additions in the form of treats, mash, muesli, bread, or fruit, even if the product is touted as “low energy” or “diet feed”! All feeds contain energy (calories).
If you absolutely must give your horse a reward, here’s one thing that would be acceptable: one single (!) fresh carrot per day. Contrary to their reputation, carrots are neither especially high in sugar nor in energy. Of course they contain some, which is why you should limit them to one per day.
Chronic laminitis: painful and preventable!
If the laminitis becomes chronic due to faulty management and diet, the position of the coffin bone changes in the hoof capsule. It may both rotate and sink downwards. Repeated pressure from below due to the changed position can also cause deformation of the tip of the coffin bone, forming a protrusion (sometimes called a “ski tip”).
These changes can be seen in x-rays and the severity can be assessed by marking certain points on the hoof capsule with radiopaque markers before the x-rays are taken. These markings are important so that the vet can make a prognosis for further treatment. The penetration of the coffin bone through the sole is a serious complication of chronic laminitis.
Chronic laminitis can often be detected with the naked eye: the dorsal hoof wall becomes concave and displays one or more “founder rings”: horizontal rings sloping towards the heels, showing an uneven growth of the horn. Afflicted horses often must deal with recurrent hoof abscesses, as the lamellar layer is no longer intact. They also display a typical “pottery” gait (landing heel first) in an attempt to avoid putting weight on the painful toes.
In fact, chronic laminitis is not always clearly recognisable. There are many overweight horses that never show signs of acute laminitis. Rather, there are small signs you should look for: Affected horses always move somewhat gingerly. They seek soft surfaces in the paddock and may lie down more often than others in their herd. The white line is slightly wider near the toe, and perhaps the farrier is having a difficult time keeping the toe sufficiently short. All these can be indications of inflammatory processes in the hoof capsule and should not be overlooked, as changes in the position and shape of the coffin bone may also be occurring.
The good news is that, if your horse is given good and conscientious care, it doesn't have to come to that. Prompt and consistent treatment can ensure that the horse’s hooves are not permanently damaged. The only thing that remains – the increased, permanent risk of recurrence – can be kept quite low through optimised management, feeding, and work.
Are you looking for advice on which products you can – or should not – feed a formerly laminitic horse? Our specialists are happy to advise you on the best way to feed and care for your horse:
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Celina Hofmann, Veterinary Surgeon
November 2021, © AGROBS GmbH
- Coenen, M.; Vervuert I.: Pferdefütterung. Georg Thieme Verlag KG, Stuttgart, 2020
- Gesellschaft für Pferdemedizin: Hufrehe-Leitfaden (2017). Zur Sorgfalt bei der Diagnostik und Therapie der Hufrehe.
- Kienzle, E., Fritz, J: Fütterungsbedingte Rehe – Rezidivprophylaxe beim übergewichtigen Pferd. Tierärztliche Praxis Großtiere 4/2013, S. 257-264