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  • Verna Lum

Laminitis is on the Uprise - Is Your Horse at Risk?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Laminitis is a painful and potentially crippling condition that can be fatal to horses. In fact in a recent study done in the UK have identified that one in every 10 horses and ponies could develop at least one laminitis episode each year, making it just as common as colic. (1,2)

So why the increase in laminitis? – too much sugar is one risk factor as well as metabolic disorders such as insulin resistancy, Cushings, hind gut acidosis, ulcers, and obesity (body condition score 8 or 9)(3)

Sugar has an essential role by furnishing the energy requirements for our horses to sustain daily activities as well as the demand from training and competition.

However, in situations such as insulin resistancy, sugars remain in the blood and increase the risk of the horse developing laminitis.

Grain overload - A horse has a very small stomach and if too much grain is fed at one time and the horse eats very fast, some of the soluable carbohydrates (sugar, starch and fructan) will reach the hind gut and are rapidly fermented producing gas and lactic acid. This will create an acidic pH (hindgut acidosis), which is not only painful but can damage the intestinal wall, enabling toxins to leak out and causing system wide inflammation and increased risk of laminitis, colic and hind gut ulcers.(4,5)

Sugar in hay can vary 10-30%, don't guess have your hay analyzed and reduce the risk of high sugars

Sugar in Hay - As with grain overload, too much sugar from pasture and or hay can have the same impact with increased risk of hindgut acidosis, laminitis and colic. Since 80-90% of the daily energy requirements come from forage, it is a good idea to test your pastures and hay to determine how much sugar it contains. On average a 1000lb horse will consume approximately 20lbs of hay per day (2% per body weight). If this hay contains 15% sugar that is 3lbs or >6 cups of sugar per day from hay alone! Soaking hay overnight can reduce sugars 20-25%.

Sugar in Pastures - Managing your pasture is important as the time of day for turn out. Sugar content in grass can vary and in a mixed pasture of grasses, (Timothy, Orchard Grass, Tall Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass) sugar content could be as high as 20% . Grass will accumulate and store sugar during the day via photosynthesis.

However, in times of drought and below 4 degrees C, grass will not grow and will store sugar until ideal conditions arise. Therefore, after a winter, such as early spring, or early fall (after a summer of drought) would be the worst time for turn out Sugars would be the highest and highest risk for developing laminitis and or hind gut acidosis for horses that are overweight, insulin resistance, already laminitic, Cushings and /or prone to tying up and colic.


1.Animal Health Trust, in Newmarket, UK, Royal Veterinary College (RVC), in Hertfordshire, U.K., and Rossdales Equine Hospital

2. US (Department of Animal Sciences and Agricultural Education, California State University

For more information or to learn more about if your horse is at risk for laminitis, please call us at 905 691 9725 or email at vlequineperformance



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