This certainly has been an unusual year when it comes to the weather: firstly a delayed spring which saw some of the coldest temperatures for over 50 years and now in July a mini heat wave with temperatures around 30 degrees. As grass growth was delayed and owners are becoming more aware of the dangers of obesity, cases of spring laminitis have been low; but summer still holds its risks. The following is a guide to managing the risks in order to help keep your horse or pony safe.
For very susceptible animals, zero grazing will be the safest and in some cases, the only option. For those with access to grazing, consider the following recommendations:
· It is impossible to predict fructan levels (the storage form of sugar in grass) at any one time but levels are likely to lower at night – consider turning out late until and until early morning (or mid-morning at the latest).
· Avoid grazing on hay stubble- stems can be higher in fructans than the leaf.
· Consider using a grazing muzzle – studies have shown that they can reduce grass intake by up to 80%. Take care to ensure that your horse/ pony’s muzzle fits correctly and he is happy to eat and drink before leaving him unsupervised. Introduce the muzzle gradually and do not leave it for 24 hours per day
· If turning out for only a few hours, still consider using a muzzle – in recent studies, horse’s on restricted forage quickly learnt to eat almost two thirds of their daily allowance in only 3-5 hours at grass
· As an alternative to grazing muzzles, consider strip grazing (taking care to ‘back fence’) or making use bark paddocks or ménages
· Feed soaked hay, although in hot weather it is not advisable to soak for more than 3-6 hours due to the increased risk of bacterial growth or a hay replacer approved by The Laminitis Trust during periods of no grazing. Alternatively consider having your forage analysed
· Do not over-feed – if you horse or pony is able to maintain weight on forage alone, a balancer is the ideal way to provide vitamins, minerals and amino acids without excess calories. If additional feed is required, avoid all mixes and choose fibre and oil based feed that are low in starch and sugar
· Keep your horse’s waistline in check – a body condition score of 5 out of 9 is ideal
· Where possible maintain a regular exercise programme
Laminitis can affect any horse or pony at any time so remember be vigilant as prevention is always better than cure!