Pasture Associated Laminitis

Everyone loves Spring, but as a horse owner you may be anxious about the possibility of pasture associated laminitis [PAL] if you let your horse graze those tantalizing luscious new growths of pasture. How great is the risk?  Can you avoid it?

Green goodness or potential disaster?

There are plenty of articles out there that warn about the dangers of high fructan in Spring pastures triggering laminitis. Many of them are written by people who want to sell you a product to control hind gut acidosis. They will tell you in the fructan theory that laminitis is caused by fermentation of fructans to lactate causing acidosis in the hind gut and damage to the lining which allows entry of dangerous bacterial products into the blood stream.  So far, so good.

What they don’t tell you is that this scenario has only occurred in an experimental setting with huge doses of 5 to 7.25 pounds of pure chickory root fructan given to horses by stomach tube in a single dose.  Lower doses do not cause a problem and do not damage the intestinal lining. A horse grazing a high, 7.5% fructan North American pasture would have to eat all day to take in only 1.65 pounds of fructan. [Based on a 500 kg horse eating 2% of body weight, dry matter,]

They also don’t tell you that a horse with hind gut acidosis severe enough to damage the mucosa and cause laminitis would also be obviously ill with fever, septicemia, colic and severe diarrhea.  There’s no such thing as 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 you don’t understand what is really the driving force behind PAL you may have a false sense of security, putting the 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, caused by the response to starch and/or sugar – not fructan.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30058970

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27363591

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16677122

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30697823

It is very important for owners to understand what puts a horse at risk of PAL or even laminitis from an inappropriate diet with no pasture access. 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 but many metabolically abnormal horses have a normal weight. A horse that is older may also develop PPID (Cushing’s disease) and change from one that always tolerated pasture well to one that is now at risk of laminitis.

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

Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
This entry was posted in Equine Nutrition and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pasture Associated Laminitis

  1. Dr. Kellon says:

    It’s only high risk for horses with elevated insulin responses.

  2. Marcia Nelson says:

    So do I understand you to be saying that a horse can be on green pasture grass without risk of laminitis? This comes as a great surprise because I had understood it was a given that it was high risk for all horses.

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