Hoof Nutrition Intelligence Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.

Below you will find Part 1 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: How great is the risk of turning my two horses out on a lush green pasture this spring? 

By Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD

Everyone loves spring, but owners may be anxious about the possibility of pasture-associated laminitis (PAL) if their horses are allowed to graze those tantalizing and luscious new growths of pasture. How great is the risk? And can these situations be avoided?

There are plenty of articles that warn about the dangers of the high fructan levels found in spring pastures triggering laminitis. Many are written by people who want to sell you a product to control hind gut acidosis.

Based on the “fructan theory,” these folks argue that some cases of laminitis are caused by the fermentation of fructans into a lactate. They maintain this can cause acidosis in the hind gut and damage to the lining, which allows for the entry of dangerous bacterial products into the blood stream.

What they don't tell you is that this scenario has only occurred in an experimental setting with huge doses of 5-7.25 pounds of pure chicory root fructan that was given to horses by stomach tube in a single dose. Lower doses do not cause a problem and do not damage the intestinal lining.

In fact, a horse grazing a 7.5% fructan North American pasture would have to eat all day to take in only 1.65 pounds of fructan. (This is based on a 1,100 pound horse eating 2% of its body weight as dry matter.)

These folks also don't tell you that a horse with hind gut acidosis, which is severe enough to damage the mucosa and cause laminitis, would be ill with fever, septicemia, colic and severe diarrhea. 

Since there's no such thing as a horse only being a little bit septicemic, the dose of fructan matters. The horse's digestive tract can handle wide variations in pH without becoming damaged. There has never been a naturally occurring case of laminitis linked to pasture fructan levels.

There's much more at stake here than wasting money on an inappropriate supplement. If owners don't understand what the real driving force is behind PAL, they may develop a false sense of security in placing a horse or pony at risk.

PAL has been studied by multiple researchers and the overwhelming conclusion is that it is related to elevated insulin levels in endocrine disorders. This is caused by the response to starch and/or sugar — not fructan.

It’s important for owners to understand what puts a horse at risk of PAL or laminitis from an inappropriate diet, even without access to pasture. Owners need to recognize that PAL is linked to elevated insulin responses.

The classical appearance of a horse or pony at risk is one that is overweight with an obvious, fatty crest on the neck, even though many metabolically abnormal horses have a normal weight. An older horse may also develop pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID/Cushing’s disease) and change from one that has always tolerated pasture well to one now at risk for laminitis.

If you suspect a horse is at risk, speak with a veterinarian and pursue testing. For further details, visit http://www.ecirhorse.org.

Dr. Eleanor Kellon, a staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, has been an established authority in equine nutrition for over 30 years. The owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions in Robesonia, Pa., she is a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal.

Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine). Absorbine

Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.

Click here to read Part 2 of the April 15, 2019 installment: Is laminitis or colic a bigger concern to horse owners?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.