If you have a horse prone to laminitis, deciding what to feed can be stressful. Feeding a diet that is too rich in sugars and/or sugars can make things worse for your horse and lead to flare-ups.

But there are some simple rules you can follow to feed your horse appropriately and reduce the risk of an acute laminitis episode.

Laminitis is the result of a systemic health condition that manifests in the hooves. It can be caused by a systemic inflammatory response to conditions like Strangles, Potomac Horse Fever and colic. Horses that break in to the feed room and consume a large amount of starch and sugars can also experience laminitis.

It is estimated that 90% of laminitis cases are caused by high insulin/hyperinsulinemia in horses with metabolic syndrome or PPID (Cushing’s disease). A diet low in simple sugars and starch is a critical step for reducing the risk of laminitis.

Horses with chronic laminitis have experienced one or more episodes of acute laminitis and may have long-term hoof damage. In one study, 3.9% of horses were reported to have chronic laminitis. [19]

Designing a feeding plan for a laminitic horse involves getting a hay analysis and reducing the hydrolyzable carbohydrate (HC) content in the diet. Hydrolyzable carbohydrates includes those digestible in the small intestine, contributing to a sugar spike in the blood. On the hay analysis, that includes starch and ESC. ESC is ethanol soluble carbohydrates and represents the simple sugars.

For horses with laminitis, you need to stop feeding commercial grains, limit or avoid pasture access, and provide a vitamin and mineral supplement to support hoof growth.

Our nutritionists can help you formulate a long-term management diet for your laminitic horse. Submit their information online for a free diet evaluation.

Laminitis: An Overview

Laminitis is an extremely painful and debilitating condition that can cause long-term damage in horses. Some horses are permanently affected and are unable to return to work or to the same performance level.

This condition involves stretching and weakening of the laminae found within the hoof capsule. The sensitive laminae are a soft tissue structure consisting of blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves.


Healthy vs Laminitic Horse HoofIllustration:


The sensitive laminae are attached the pedal bone (third phalanx) to the hoof wall. They interlock with the insensitive laminae of the hoof wall to anchor the pedal bone and hoof wall. When the laminae elonagate and stretch, it weakens the connection between the pedal bone and the hoof wall.

In the most severe cases, laminitis can progress to founder in which the pedal bone sinks distally (downwards) and rotates within the hoof capsule. In extreme cases it can puncture through the hoof sole. [1]

Not only does this lead to lameness, but it also disrupts circulation to the hooves. Laminitis has been described as equivalent to a heart attack in the hoof. [20]

Horses that have foundered experience excruciating pain. Horse owners may have no choice in these cases but to make the difficult decision to euthanize their companions.

If your horse is showing signs of acute laminitis, consult with a veterinarian right away. Acute laminitis is a medical emergency.

Once the acute stage of the condition has passed, work with your veterinarian and farrier for a treatment plan to resolve symptoms.

You should also consult with an equine nutritionist to identify dietary and management changes that can help to reduce the risk of laminitis recurrence.

Common Causes of Laminitis

Several types of laminitis have been identified based on different causal factors.

Laminitis can be caused by starch overload due to chronic over-consumption of concentrates or rich grass by horses with EMS or PPID. This is referred to as endocrinopathic laminitis. Unlike other forms of laminitis, endocrinopathic/metabolic laminitis is not an inflammatory event. It is primarily mediated by metabolic dysfunction and is related to problems with hyperinsulinemia.

Laminitis can also be caused secondary to colitis or to an infection linked to a retained placenta in post-parturition mares (after giving birth). This is known as sepsis associated laminitis with a systemic inflammatory response.

Similarly, laminitis related to gorging on grain or systemic illnesses like Strangles, Potomac Horse Fever or Lyme Disease are caused by a systemic inflammatory response.

Lastly, mechanical laminitis can occur if a horse is overcompensating for a lameness or through excessive concussion in exercise. [2]

Depending on the type of laminitis your horse is dealing with, there are different strategies to manage their risk.

In this article, we will focus on management practices to reduce the risk of endocrinopathic forms of laminitis, which represents 90% of cases in horses and ponies. [21]

Many of these cases are caused by dietary factors that are linked to domestic management. This means that many cases of laminitis are preventable with the right feeding, exercise and management strategy.

Reducing the Risk of Endocrinopathic Laminitis

Endocrinopathic laminitis is most commonly seen in horses or ponies with Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) or Cushing’s syndrome (PPID).