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Spring grass and laminitis advice for equine keepers in Northamptonshire

April 14, 2021

What horse or pony doesn’t love grazing in a field full of lush green spring grass after the winter hay diet? Equine keepers in Northamptonshire should beware though of the connection between spring grass and laminitis. Andy Hayes explains why.

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Spring grass is often thought to be the culprit in many laminitis cases. However, it’s actually caused by a combination of eating grasses laden with high amounts of sugars and starches, and hyperinsulinemia (high blood insulin levels) in horses and ponies with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) and PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction), also known as Cushing’s disease.

Why does spring grass trigger laminitis?

Spring grass is particularly concerning because the sudden increase in daylight kicks off photosynthesis, thereby generating NSCs – non-structural carbohydrates a.k.a. sugars & starches. On warm spring nights, the plant uses NSCs to fuel overnight growth and on cool nights, NSCs accumulate in the plant. When horses eat spring grasses, they’re consuming a much higher amount of sugar and starch than they need, which is bad for EMS and PPID sufferers, and can lead to weight gain.

Grass that grows in spring and autumn (warm sunny days and cool nights) is most problematic, however, with the unpredictability of NCS levels in grass, laminitis can be an issue all year-round. Equine keepers should therefore minimise the grass intake of any horse, donkey, or pony, with EMS and/or PPID.

What is laminitis in horses?

Laminitis is a painful condition that occurs when the laminae (thin vertical structures that attach the horse’s coffin bone to the hoof wall and prevent it from sinking or rotating) are damaged or inflamed and can’t prevent movement of the coffin bone. In extreme cases, the coffin bone can penetrate the foot.

Laminitis symptoms to look out for (may be subtle or obvious):

  • ‘Footy’ behaviour
  • Shifting in front
  • A reluctance to walk, turn, or pick up feet
  • Stretched white line
  • ‘Rocking horse’ stance (their weight is shifted backwards)

If you’re concerned your horse could be suffering from laminitis, contact us to arrange a visit from one of our team.

You can always call us for more advice on 01327 811007.

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