An Eastern Approach to Treating Laminitis in Horses

Looking for alternative treatments for laminitis in horses? Dr. Joyce Harman explains the traditional Chinese approach to treating laminitis.
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Looking for alternative treatments for laminitis in horses? Dr. Joyce Harman explains the traditional Chinese approach to treating laminitis.

In the December 2006 issue of Horse & Rider, natural hoof care practitioner Pete Ramey and veterinarian Joyce Harman offered new, alternative treatments for laminitis. Along with supplements and acupuncture, Joyce utilizes traditional Chinese medicine in her practice to treat laminitic horses.

Chinese medicine incorporates the use of herbs and acupuncture to treat various conditions. Joyce explains that there are three basic imbalances that contribute to insulin resistance, which is thought to trigger a laminitis attack:

  • Overeating of sweet (and fatty) foods. According to Chinese medicine, a diet high in sweets and fats damages the "Spleen Meridian" of the horse, which leads to damages of the insulin pathways. "These horses generally have issues with laminitis in the late summer and fall," Joyce says.
  • Stresses in life. Horses that tend to have problems with laminitis in the spring (more often mares than geldings) are horses that deal with a lot of stress in their life. These are horses that've been on the show circuit, are confined, have been exposed to lots of drugs, steroids and vaccines, or have been traumatized or abused. This damages the "Liver Meridian" which, when not functioning, affects insulin pathways.
  • Aging. Wintertime laminitis, which is the most confounding to many vets, usually occurs in horses 15 and over. These horses (often horses that fit the "Cushings" description, with long hair and increased water intake) have damage or deficiency in the "Kidney Meridian."

A veterinarian who is trained in Chinese medicine will look at these three major imbalances in order to use acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine to support the horse's insulin sensitivity.

To find a veterinarian who practices acupuncture and/or Chinese medicine, log on to AAVA.org, IVAS.org (both have lists of acupuncturists around the country) or www.tcvm.com (an organization that trains veterinarians in the use of herbs.)

Dr. Joyce Harman graduated from Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1984 with an interest in acupuncture and alternative medicine. In 1990, she became a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, moved to Virginia, and opened Harmany Equine Clinic. In 1994 she became a Certified Veterinary Chiropractor. Dr. Harman was president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association in 1998 and 1999. And, in those rare moments of spare time, she works with her Connemara-Thoroughbred mare in a diverse range of disciplines.