For horses battling laminitis from PPID (Pars Pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction) or EMS/IR (Equine Metabolic Syndrome/Insulin Resistance) the winter months can be very hard. There are many dangers winter brings to our equine friends suffering from laminitis. The following are several challenges an owner needs to be aware of with regards to winter and laminitis.
The first and most obvious is the ground is frozen, and frozen uneven ground can be a nightmare for a horse with painful feet. Horses who suffer from laminitis often have thinner soles (from rotation of the coffin bone). Even if the horse’s sole is hard on palpation, pressure from the uneven frozen ground can cause deep bruising and trauma to the sensitive tissue of the hoof. By protecting your horse’s feet with either shoes and pads/padding or hoof boots, you can reduce or prevent increased damage and discomfort from the hard ground. My recommendation if using boots would be to use them only when outside, and removed them at night when the horse comes in. If your horse is outside all the time then shoes with pads would be a better option. Snow pads as well as borium can be added to help prevent snow an ice from building up as well as provide needed traction.
Winter not only brings hard frozen ground, but here in Wisconsin it also can bring a lot of snow. While we may think snow is great for a horse’s foot, after all we ice the feet during a bought of laminitis, it is not. A horse with chronic laminitis can have nerve and vascular damage from repetitive trauma. Where a horse without laminitis might be absolutely fine standing in cold snow all day. Horses with chronic laminitis can become very painful from decreased blood flow to the laminal tissue, as well as increased sensitivity to the cold from the damaged nerves. Placing wraps over the lower limb and hoof can help decrease thermal trauma and keep blood flowing to the hoof. Turn out into an arena (if you have access to one) may be another option for these horses. If your horse does seem to become more painful during the winter months, there are medications we can use to help decrease the nerve impulses and therefore increase comfort levels.
Finally feeding your metabolically challenged horse still can be very difficult in the winter months. Grass may appear to not be growing, or look dormant, however, it can often times contain high levels of sugars which may push your horse back into a laminitic state. When grass goes through a stressful period i.e., drought or cold weather (frost), the sugars produced by photosynthesis are concentrated and stored within the grass. This can become disastrous for a metabolically challenged horse. Continuing to control your horses turn out and the use of a grazing muzzle are still essential in the winter months. Grass however, is not the only concern. Hay can even become a problem. Hay with 10 % NSC (Non Structural Carbohydrates) or lower is recommended for horse with EMS/IR and PPID. Even if you have the same hay from the same field as the year before your hay may not have the same NSC value. There are several factors which can increased NSC values in hay, such as drought (stressful periods), drying time, and the time of day the grass was cut to produce the hay. Testing your hay yearly is recommended as well as soaking your hay in warm water for 30 to 60 minutes before your horse is allowed to eat it. This will pull out water soluble carbohydrates which can help make your hay safer for your horse.
It is important to continue to not let your guard down during the winter months. Continue to exercise your horse if able. Remember to protect your horse’s feet and keep them from becoming too cold and continue to monitor their feed intake. Be proactive this winter, and you and your horse can have a happier productive spring and summer.