Horses with laminitis sometimes develop a syndrome of ongoing pain that is poorly controlled by common medications like phenylbutazone. This pain may persist even when the horse has been trimmed correctly and underlying causes of the laminitis correctly controlled. It is also well known that X-ray findings don’t necessarily correlate well with the level of pain in chronically painful laminitic horses.
A study performed at the University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom), and published in the journal Pain, found that the sensory nerves in the foot, as well as the corresponding area for those nerves in the spinal cord and the brain, are damaged. The changes in the nerves, spinal cord and brain are the same as those seen in neuropathic pain conditions in people and other species. Neuropathic pain is pain that is caused by damage to/changes in the nervous system itself. It occurs with damage to a nerve, and also in metabolic diseases including diabetes and insulin resistance.
We’ve reported in the past on our Dr. Eleanor Kellon’s field trials of the Chinese herb Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) in chronic laminitis pain. This was tried because of the herb’s circulation-enhancing effects, but studies have also found it can protect nerve cells from oxidative damage (Brain Research, August 2006). Most horses respond well to this herb. For those who don’t, or have only partial relief, neuropathic nerve damage and pain may be the reason. This type of pain is often quite severe. A very safe and usually effective treatment in people is acetyl-L-carnitine.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is a nutrient with several functions, including carrying fats into the cells’ mitochondria to be used as fuel, and as an antioxidant. Supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine has been shown to both prevent and treat neuropathic pain. ALC has been used in horses in training to help muscle adaptation. The equine dose is usually 10 grams/day, but discuss its use with your own veterinarian before using the product.
ALC is sold as a bulk powder, which is less expensive than the human capsule form. Suppliers can be easily located by doing an Internet search for acetyl-L-carnitine powder. The cost may be as low as 50??/day for the full 10-gram dose.