EquiSearch's Ask the Vet: Insulin Resistance

A 12-year-old gelding often comes up lame and hasn't shed his winter coat properly. He may be insulin resistant. Dr. Joyce Harman offers ways to deal with his feet and diet.
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A 12-year-old gelding often comes up lame and hasn't shed his winter coat properly. He may be insulin resistant. Dr. Joyce Harman offers ways to deal with his feet and diet.

Question:I just got a 12-year-old gelding on loan for my kids. He had laminitis but had been clear for three years, then was left at pasture in a previous loan home and foundered. I have him stabled on deep shavings wearing Bioflow Boots, and I feed him Happy Hoof and Formula4Feet and poor hay but he's still lame, although eager for light exercise. When turned out overnight on an acre of nothing he goes lame immediately, but seems to cope with two hours on better grass in a huge field. I have a Best Friends Grazing Muzzle for him but he can't seem to eat with it and gets annoyed (he's normally a placid soul).

Also, he hasn't shed his winter coat properly--it's not long and curly, just thick. He drinks three buckets of water in 24 hours and fouls a lot. He stands with his hocks raised, tries to tip back on his heels but has been trimmed to prevent this by his owners' farrier. He has a roundish belly but a narrow girth. Please help! My two-year-old daughter adores this pony, who's great in every other way.

Answer: There are a number of ways to help a pony like this. Most ponies and horses with these symptoms are insulin resistant as their primary problem. Some can have hormonal imbalances that could be a precursor to true Cushing's disease, which is much less common in horses than is insulin resistance. Ponies are usually fairly easy to manage if you pay close attention to them.

One of the most important things to get right is his feet. There are a number of ways to trim him that are beneficial to the healing of his feet. The sole must be allowed to grow and only get trimmed back to the level of the live sole, leaving the toe callus (thick edge at the front of the bottom of the foot) intact to provide support for the lamina. The website www.hopeforsoundness.com has more detailed information about healthy trimming for the foot. When he is having a bad time, you can use foam blocks to support the sole as described on that website. Sometimes having a place with sand is more supportive to his feet than deep shavings because the sand supports the entire bottom of the foot.

The use of bipolar magnets can aggravate certain conditions, though it will help relieve pain in others. The south-seeking side of the magnet (positive side) works to reduce edema and acute inflammation, but after about a week post-injury this positive side will adversely affect the tissue and can increase pain. The north side (negative) will improve the healing in the chronic cases because it relaxes muscle tissue and increases oxygen to the area. This is from scientific research into the use of magnets for healing. When you have both together, sometimes the body is unable to improve, even though there may be an initial positive response. You may want to try just a single pole magnet that pulls the north side of a compass, an easy test to perform.

Next is the diet. It has been found that grass often has more of the bad carbohydrates (fructans) when it is short and stressed. In many cases, the longer, "better looking" grass has lower levels of fructans. See www.safergrass.org for great detail on grasses and hays. You might look at the GreenGuard muzzle as a more comfortable alternative to limit grass intake, which is very necessary for him to improve. Hay also can have higher levels of fructans and sugars than he can tolerate.

Any grain to be fed should be no more than a handful--barley is a nice grain, or a bit of oats. Free choice minerals without salt added (salt as a separate block can be added) is needed by these animals as in most cases they have a higher requirement for minerals than a normal horse. I am not sure what you have available in your area, most companies mix a lot of salt into the minerals which limits how much they can eat.

The key ingredient to helping him heal is to add essential fatty acids in the form of flax or hemp oil, seed or meal. Oil must be refrigerated so it may be difficult to use in the barn. The ground flax or hemp oxidizes immediately, so if you grind it you have to feed it right away and clean your grinder. Purchased ground meal must be naturally stabilized at the processing plant. In the U.S. there are a couple of companies that do that--Advanced Biological Concepts, Enrico and maybe more. The doses are about 1.5 tablespoons of oil twice per day for a pony of his size, 2-3 ounces of the whole or ground seed given twice a day. Contrary to popular belief, flax is not toxic to horses and does not need to be cooked. Cooking removes all of the most beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids.

If you can find a good veterinary homeopath, acupuncturist or herbalist who can work with you locally, any of these treatments will help enormously with the pain, long hair and excessive drinking as well as the entire healing process. There are many supplements that can help with the healing process (magnesium, vanadium, chromium, coenzyme Q10 and more). For more detailed information on the science behind this condition and treatments, see these articles on my website: Insulin Resistance and Cushing's Syndrome in Horses and Natural Treatment of Chronic Laminitis.

Have you had a similar experience with your horse? Chat about how you handled it in the EquiSearch Forum.

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.

Do you have a veterinary question for Dr. Harman? Send it to asktheexperts@equinetwork.com. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.