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EquiSearch’s Ask the Vet: Fall Laminitis Season

Dr. Joyce Harman shares tips on weight loss, feed and supplements for a mare who's developed laminitis in this edition of Ask the Vet on

© Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore
The ideal pasture for a horse at risk for laminitis is a fairly dry lot with a few blades of grass and some weeds. | © Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore

Question: I have an American Quarter Horse who is in the first stages of founder. According to our farrier, we caught her in time. Our farrier feels she could stand to lose about 200 pounds. Her feet are sore, but she is still walking on them. We have been sponging them off with water and running water on her hooves. While we were on vacation she was on a lush pasture and was fed grain--I think she might have been overfed. Now we have her off the pasture completely and no grain. She is getting two flakes of hay a day.

She seems to be drinking a lot of water, and I haven't noticed her going the bathroom as much. Should I give her a bran supplement for her to go more regularly or is this normal since she has been completely taken off pasture grass and grain? Finally, what is the best type of pasture for horses to graze on? We are considering reseeding the pasture. It currently has white clover.


Answer: Fall is our next major laminitis season, second only to spring in its importance. Horses naturally and easily add weight in the fall to prepare themselves for the winter when there might not be any food. The cycle of natural weight gain and loss is detailed in my September 2008 newsletter. If your horse's weight has crept up over the summer, you may be entering a dangerous time. See the September 2008 issue of EQUUS magazine for a great article about using the size of the horse's crest to determine his susceptibility to laminitis. If your horse is fat or getting fat, a diet plan is in order to prevent perhaps the most dreaded disease, founder.

In your salutation, her weight had been increasing for a while, since we know 200 pounds does not get there overnight. So she was probably susceptible to laminitis and even one rainstorm that brightened up the grass could be enough to tip her over the top. In the fall, we often think the grass is losing its nutrition, but many grasses are at their peak. This is especially true in the areas where fescue grows--it does not become sweet and palatable until after a couple heavy frosts. Then it is good all winter. Any green grass out there can be too much for the fat ones.

Any fat horse does not need grain! They can have a handful when the others eat or to make the person happy, but there is no reason to feed any type of grain to overweight horses. You might as well put them in a chocolate factory. So you have done the right thing to remove the grain and just feed some hay. However, hays can also contain sugar, so visit for more information on hay and how to get your hay tested.

Supplements such as flax will help with her stool and also help her sugar metabolism, since flax helps get insulin into the muscle cells to be burned. Flax also has anti-inflammatory properties and will help her laminitis. It is normal for horses just eating a bit of hay to have less manure in their stall than when they were eating lots of grass, grain and hay.

There are a number of supplements on the market that can help horses lose weight and improve their metabolism. I have gathered a number on my website that I use regularly in my practice. The key is to use these or other supplements along with dietary restriction and yet let the horses keep eating some hay both to keep the digestive tract going and to keep them mentally happy. Just putting them on a starvation diet, especially if separated from their buddies, adds stress. This is where muzzles allow them exercise and friends, but not too much to eat. In your horse's case, the laminitis will have to heal before she can have much turnout.

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