Virbac New Zealand

Health Care

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Feeding the laminitic horse

The basis of feeding horses with laminitis involves formulating a balanced diet high in fat and fibre while avoiding sugars (Le. grains and carbohydrate-rich pastures).

Below is a guide to help manage and prevent laminitis through correct feeding.


1. Hay

Base the diet on forage feeds that are low in sugars and fructans (collectively called Water Soluble Carbohydrates or WSC). This can be achieved by feeding mature lucerne hay that is typically lower in fructans and higher in protein than other hays. Avoid hays containing high amounts or’ fructan such as ryegrass, oaten, wheaten or barley hays.

Hay can also be soaked in double its volume of water for 60 minutes to help reduce the sugar content- Using more water will increase the amount of W8C removal- Remove the water and allow the hay to air dry prior to feeding. As starch is not soluble in water, forage that contains high starch levels is not affected by soaking.

Silage produced especially for horses or lucerne haylage can also be fed as these are also low in sugars.

Hay should be offered prior to turning the horse out in order to fill its stomach and limit the amount of pasture ingested while grazing.


2. Pasture

Pasture fructan levels are lowest in the morning so horses can be allowed to graze until about 11am. Limit pasture access to 90 minutes only in spring and autumn- In one study, it was estimated that ponies consumed 40% of their daily (dry matter) intake during three hours of pasture turnout.[i]

“Starvation” paddocks, strip grazing and grazing muzzles can also be used to limit pasture intake- Shaded pastures have lower sugar levels compared to pastures subject to full sun.

Do not allow laminitic horses to graze on stressed short grass, frosted or drought recovering pastures as these may contain high sugar, starch or fructan levels referred to as NSC (non-structural carbohydrate) levels. Avoid grazing in full sun during the day and as much as possible during spring and autumn, especially after a dry summer (i.e. times of high pasture growth}.

Two types of grasses in particular pose a risk of causing laminitis in horses known as C3 type plants and Cd type plants. C3 or ‘cool season‘ grasses grow better under cool, temperate climates (10-25°C temperature) and form fructans as their storage NSC while 04 or 'warm/tropical season' grasses do better in 15-40°C temperature and form starch as their storage form of carbohydrate.

Any changes to the normal conditions for these grasses can cause a dramatic change in carbohydrate storage levels. For example, horses are at higher risk of laminitis during times when temperatures fluctuate out of this range. Numerous studies have also shown that drought-stressed forage is high in NSC.[ii]

Avoid ryegrass, phalaris and fescue dominant lush pastures which are considered high risk pastures, as well as rapidly growing clover in spring.


3. Supplements

If your pasture or hay quality IS poor, a supplement providing a good balance in protein, vitamins and minerals such as Feramo Every Horse can be given- Ferarno Every Horse also prowdes a good source of biotin and methionine for maintaining healthy hooves. Additional protein from soybean, canola meal, cracked lupins or faba beans can also be added to the horse‘s diet.

For performance and show horses, beet pulp with added oil is also a relatively safe source of energy and if fed carefully, can help achieve show condition Without the need to feed cereals or grains-

Feed up to 2% of your horse's body weight (10 kg/day for a 500 kg horse] per day as low quality, low sugar forage. If your horse requires supplemental feeding, use a feed containing sugar and starch levels of less than 12%.

Cut out treats such as apples, carrots, bread, weeds of any kind and do not add molasses or honey to feed. Always avoid giving cereal grain based feeds to laminitic horses. These include:

  • Oats, corn, wheat, rice or barley
  • Millrun, mill mix, bran (rice or wheat), pollard
  • Any form of steam flaked, micronized or extruded grain
Treatment options
  • Cold therapy (cryotherapy) involves soaking feet in ice/very cold water in the early development phase of laminitis to slow down MMP-caused cell destruction. It is beneficial only in the early disease phase when there is heat in the hooves.
  • Soft bedding can provide some immediate relief to the horse.
  • Using sand and sawdust for sole support may be helpful.
  • Anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs may be prescribed for pain relief and to block further cell damage. Horses being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs should be rested to prevent further laminae damage. Care should be taken to protect the horse from developing gastric ulcers.
  • Medicinal treatments prescribed by veterinarians may be useful in the treatment of Cushings Disease and EMS.
  • Regular X-rays, including venograms, are a useful aid in treating and diagnosing laminitis. These help farriers and veterinarians to make appropriate decisions regarding corrective trimming and shoeing. Sole support hoof products or custom moulded in-soles may help minimise weight bearing forces on the hoof wall and help with the healing process.

On-going monitoring and managing of the horse's weight and diet, including a fitness regime in line with the feeding program, will help keep this disease process under check.

Laminitis is a distressing and potentially crippling disease which affects the sensitive support of lamellar tissues within the hooves of the horse. Although the disease is most commonly associated with overweight, ‘cresty' ponies grazing on lush pastures during the spring months, all horses are at risk of developing laminitis and the condition has affected many champion performance horses at the peak of their career.

If you think you have a case of laminitis, call your veterinarian for advice. The sooner you call, the more likely you will be able to successfully treat your horse's laminitis.

Prevent what can’t be cured!

Founderguard® is a proven preventative for feed-induced laminitis

Founderguard is a significant breakthrough in the prevention of this often devastating disease has been made with the development of a safe and effective feed supplement.

Founderguard represents a significant breakthrough in the prevention of carbohydrate induced laminitis. A daily dose of this palatable, pelleted feed additive reduces the risk of feed induced laminitis in horses and ponies receiving soluble carbohydrate rich rations. Founderguard should be given for at least three days before any change in diet involving an increase in starch or sugar.

Founderguard is a founder preventative rather than a treatment and cannot correct any physical damage that has already occurred in the hooves. However, following an attack of laminitis, Founderguard can help prevent the ’flare-ups' that frequently occur in the recovery period. Remember that once a horse has had laminitis, it is very susceptible to repeat attacks and Founderguard should be fed daily to minimise the chance of recurrence.

Founderguard contains Virginiamycin (antibiotic) 10g per kg. The dose is 500ug/kg body weight of active ingredient. It is palatable and can be added to the feed ration. As with any change in feeding it is recommended to start feeding Founderguard at a quarter of the recommended dose and gradually work up to the full dose over a period of five to six days.

Does Founderguard have any side effects?

No. Occasionally Founderguard may cause a decrease in appetite for 3-4 days after daily supplementation is started. This is a normal response and indicates that the horse‘s gut microbes are returning to their correct proportions. Founderguard may also cause drier than normal manure for the first week of treatment and a mild laxative (bran mash) diet is recommended in these cases for the first few days of supplementation. By gradually introducing the dose as recommended the incidence of these effects is reduced.

Is Founderguard another type of ‘Bute'?

No, Founderguard is not like ‘Bute' (phenylbutazone). It is not an anti-inflammatory or painkiller. It works in a completely different way and does not carry the risks associated with long term ‘Bute’ treatment.

Will the use of Founderguard cause antibiotic resistance?

No. because Founderguard contains a very selective antibiotic which has activity against only very specific bacteria.[iii]


[i] Menzies-Gow, N., & Young, N. (2011). Antibiotic resistance in faecal bacteria isolated from horses receiving virginiamycin for the prevention of pasture-associated laminitis. Veterinary microbiology152(3), 424-428.

[ii] Geor, R. J., & Harris, P. (2009). Dietary management of obesity and insulin resistance: countering risk for laminitis. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice25(1), 51-65.

[iii] Colgan, S. (2003). Subclinical laminitis and its effects on the racehorse. Virbac Australia Technical Digest, Number 25

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