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How Overfeeding Causes Laminitis
 By Winniefield Park   •   12th May 2015   •   2,452 views   •   0 comments
How Overfeeding Causes Laminitis

Laminitis is unfortunately common, especially in ponies. It’s almost hard to find a pony that hasn’t foundered at some point in its life, sometimes multiple times. We know that laminitis can happen for a few reasons. The foremost is overfeeding. Whether a horse or pony breaks into the feed room and gorges on sweet feed and anything else it can get its nose into, or a kind but uninformed owner turns them out on rich spring pasture, laminitis (and of course, colic) can be the outcome. Ponies can quickly eat enough green grass to founder in a ridiculously short time. Being ridden on very hard footing, like pavement can cause ‘road founder’, severe colic, metabolic problems, infections, some diseases, toxins and drug reactions can cause laminitis.

So we know what laminitis is caused by, and that it is extremely painful, but why does something like gorging on green grass cause a problem in a horse’s hooves? The hooves seem a long way from the digestive system. The trigger for feed-caused laminitis is an excess of sugars. Not the white stuff that you stir into tea, but the sugars that are formed in the horse’s hindgut as they convert grain starches and sugar, called glucose and fructose (which when they bind, is table sugar) in grass.

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Excess sugar and carbs in the horse’s hindgut results in the production of acid, which kills off the good bacteria that digest fiber. The result is a release of endotoxins, toxins that exists in bacterial cells and are released when the cell dies, into the bloodstream. The body’s response is to fight off the toxins and this leads to inflammation. The response is body-wide, but the horse’s hoof is a relatively closed capsule, with one entrance and one exit for blood flow.

Now, not all sources agree, but the most common theory of why laminitis occurs is that the blood flow within the hoof is restricted due to the increased fluids that come with inflammation. Anywhere else in the body, this would appear as a swelling, but in the hoof the swelling causes the bonds between the various structures within the hoof to deteriorate, and if severe, die off because of decreased blood flow. While the inflammation is active, the horse may feel acute pain. Once the acute stage is past, the various bones and other parts of the hoof may sag because their bonds have been weakened. This is why the bones begin to rotate and in some cases, the outer hard hoof wall can separate from the hook and loop fastener-like layer that bonds it to the softer tissues beneath.

In road founder, endotoxins aren't part of the process. Severe concussion causes the inflammation and restricted blood flow. In laminitis due to colic, a disease or a drug reaction, endotoxins can lead to the same type of reaction. Insulin resistance, the inability to process sugars, can also cause laminitis, but why it does isn’t fully understood.

Preventing laminitis is essential. Ponies and horses that are ‘easy keepers’ particularly need to be fed in a way that prevents them from becoming obese, and from gorging on rich grass or hay. It’s hard to make a horse wear a grazing muzzle, or keep it in the “diet pasture” while its buddies are enjoying a nice rich green meal. And of course, Accidental feasts too, should be prevented. Make sure that the feed room door is under lock and key so the stable Houdini doesn’t cause his own or someone else’s case of founder.
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