Fall is the favorite season for many horse owners. The crisp and cool weather, the demise of many annoying insects and the beauty of fall colors creates the perfect riding environment. However the dry pastures and brown grass bring a higher risk of laminitis, also known as founder, especially for horses who are already at risk.
Dr. Arledge reports seeing the same number of laminitis cases both in Spring and Fall. However she notes that Fall cases are often caught later in the disease process due to owners not being aware of the risk of laminitis this time of year.
Severe damage to the hoof can occur within a few hours. The severity and extent of the initial damage is the single most important factor to shape the long term prognosis for the horse. Laminitis can be managed and sometimes even halted with prompt veterinary treatment. When possible veterinarians & farriers should work together for the best possible outcome. If left untreated some cases can become life threatening.
Recent research suggests that cooler night time temperatures cause higher levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) in pasture grasses. Also all horses secrete more adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) as the days get shorter and temperatures drop. The result of both these factors lead to elevated insulin levels which is a prime cause of laminitis.
“Seasonal Rise” is the term now used to describe the Fall rise in ACTH and the resulting insulin and glucose fluctuations in horses with PPID. It is estimated that as many as 90% of laminitis cases are a result of underlying hormonal conditions, such as Cushing’s disease (PPID) or Equine Metabolic Syndrome, which is the equine equivalent of diabetes. Prior to the identification of Seasonal Rise, fall laminitis was often thought to be the result of high sugar and fructan in the grasses. But many horses will exhibit the same seasonal patterns of laminitis between August and November when they have no access to grass and no changes to their low sugar and starch diet.
Horses who easily become over-weight, such as ponies or the “Easy Keeper”, can often reflect a metabolic problem making them a higher risk. Horses that have a previous history of laminitis also carry a greater risk.
One preventative measure horse owners can follow is checking your horse daily. If you notice any slight changes in gait such as a shortened stride or walking gingerly contact your vet immediately. A serious warning sign would be a horse standing with front legs stretched out or rocking back to take weight off front feet. An increased digital pulse in the horse’s fetlock and/or abnormal warmth in the hoof wall are also indicators of a problem that would warrant a call to the vet.
Do you know how to assess your horses body condition (BCS)? Our doctors do this each time they see your horse as monitoring for weight gain is another important way to help prevent laminitis. Regional fat pads, such as a cresty neck, bulges in the hollows above the eyes, an enlarged sheath or fat above the tail are areas to monitor. Hardening of the neck crest or an increase in any of these fat deposits can be warning of imminent laminitis.
If you suspect your horse may be suffering from laminitis call your vet. Immediately remove the horse from grass and confine to an area with deep supportive bedding such as sand or sawdust. You can offer some relief from the discomfort by cushioning the feet with pads or boots. Icing the feet will reduce the damaging inflammation and ease the pain until your vet arrives.
Remember while laminitis can be very serious it can be treated. If treated quickly horses can recover, however they will still have a higher risk of recurrence. If you have any questions it is always best to call your vet.