Sunday, October 13, 2013

Equine Incretins in Laminitis Research: Animal Health Foundation Leads the Way in New Investigations into Equine Insulin Resistance

On September 24, the Animal Health Foundation Board of Directors announced a $70,000 grant to Professor Martin Sillence of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia to study a new phase of the insulin resistance process at the root of “metabolic” or endocrine-related laminitis in horses.

Remember this word: incretins. Pronounced “in-CREE-tinz”, this funny little word will be one that you will be hearing often in months to come. 

Professor Martin Sillence of
Queensland University of

Incretins are tiny peptides produced in the small intestine in response to eating sugar. They travel via the bloodstream to the pancreas to stimulate increased production of insulin. This is the basis for the Animal Health Foundation’s previous research to develop a simple “Oral Sugar Test”: horses that are prone to develop laminitis have a higher insulin response after a dose of oral sugar.

To understand this new direction in AHF research, Donald M. Walsh, DVM, president and founder of the organization, answered some questions about incretins and the possible benefits of funding research that does not, at first glance, seem to be about horses with laminitis.

1. AHF Question: What’s the overall direction for future laminitis research funding from the AHF?

Dr. Walsh: Endocrinopathic laminitis is responsible for the vast majority of laminitis in this country. As we follow the lead of human insulin research, AHF finds the field of incretin research very interesting and worth investment of research money. Very little is known about incretins in horses and what role they are playing in the control of insulin and in glucose metabolism.

When we hear “laminitis”, we think “feet”, but we have to consider how the damaging agents are reaching the feet, and what organs or body systems may be creating them.

2. AHF Question: Hang on a minute. What are incretins, again? 

Dr. Walsh: Incretins are small proteins that are produced by cells in the intestine in response to the consumption of carbohydrates (sugar). The incretins then travel by the blood to their target organ, the pancreas. At the pancreas, they enhance the production of insulin. Studying how this pathway controls insulin levels may lead to strategies that can prevent the common form of metabolic laminitis.

3. AHF Question: Laminitis research means researching the pancreas? That’s a long way from the hoof.

Dr. Walsh: We know that high levels of insulin can cause laminitis. The pancreas is the only location in the body that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone, a substance produced by the body and excreted into the bloodstream to be delivered to its target tissue.

In the case of insulin, it affects the delivery of glucose into the cells; glucose, of course, provides the energy required to maintain normal health of the cell. In the horse, excess levels of insulin lead to damage to the lamina’s basement membrane, resulting in the loss of support of the coffin bone; this results in laminitis.

A model of human insulin shows six different colored proteins attached to a central zinc molecule via the amino acid histadine. Incretins have the power to charge the pancreas to create more of this insulin. Excess insulin increases the horse’s danger of developing laminitis as the outward symptom of its underlying metabolic disease. The Animal Health Foundation hopes to learn how the incretins work in a horse, and find a way to interrupt the pathway and thereby control an at-risk horse’s chances of developing laminitis. (image courtesy of Wellcome Images library)

4. AHF Question: Why not just study research on incretins in humans, that must have already been done?

Dr. Walsh: In human type 2 diabetes, the pancreas fails (finally) to produce insulin; this is not a problem for the horse. So in human medicine, they are developing drugs that act like incretins to cause the failing pancreas to produce more insulin. If incretins work the same way in the horse (something we don’t know presently), we will be trying to find ways to down-regulate incretin production to reduce insulin production by the pancreas, thereby lowering blood insulin levels and eliminating the negative effect of excess insulin on the laminae (laminitis)

Donald M. Walsh, DVM is
president and founder of the
Animal Health Foundation

So we do follow the lead of human research, but horses and people can be quite different. All mammals share some metabolic pathways but their regulation by hormones like incretins can be quite different and require species-specific research to understand their physiology.

A good example of this is the horse’s ability to continue to produce large amounts of insulin via the pancreas whereas the human pancreas becomes deficient and diabetes results, requiring insulin injections to maintain health.

5. Where is AHF’s equine incretin research going on? Who is/are the researcher(s)?

Dr. Walsh: AHF is funding some work presently being done by Dr. Nick Frank at Tufts University in Massachusetts, and also a larger study at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. This is headed by Dr. Martin Sillence. Both of these men are accomplished laminitis researchers who have made significant contributions to our knowledge of laminitis.

6. What would be the ideal outcome of the AHF equine incretin research?

Dr. Walsh: After we understand how incretins are working in the horse, the ideal outcome would be to develop laminitis prevention strategies based on controlling the production of insulin by regulating the incretin response to eating carbohydrates. If we can control insulin levels in the horse, we can prevent this common form of laminitis.


About AHF: The Animal Health Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated solely to identifying and funding critical research into the disease of laminitis in horses. 

Until recent years, excess insulin was not considered a health problem in horses, and it has only been recently that insulin was found to play the key role in the common low-grade "metabolic" form of laminitis. The Animal Health Foundation has taken a leadership role in funding research on this form of laminitis, primarily at the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland.

AHF can only continue to function as the leader in laminitis research funding with your help. AHF puts together donations large and small from horse owners, veterinarians, farriers, and any individual who wants to make a difference in beating this terrible disease in horses.

Throughout this website, you will see sidebar “donation” buttons that will lead you to the AHF donor page where you can make a one-time or recurring pledge to be part of the AHF’s research efforts. The postal address is also given if you would prefer to send a check. 

Visit the “donate” page for full details or email for personal assistance with your donation.

Article, photos and website contents © Animal Health Foundation. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any form without permission.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Halloween Fundraiser and Trivia Night in St. Louis October 26th for AHF Laminitis Research

Enjoy the lighter side of laminitis with a special fundraiser on October 26 at the AKC Museum of the Dog in St, Louis, Missouri. Hosted by the Homestead Veterinary Hospital, this fun event will have one of our famous trivia contests and a superb silent auction--so you can begin your holiday shopping!

It's all to benefit laminitis research.

Single ticket: $30
Table of eight $200

A snack bowl, Halloween candy, and water bottles will be provided, but to keep expenses to a minimum, feel free to bring other food and drinks for yourself and/or others. Ice and cups will be supplied.

Reservations must be made in advance with payment mailed in with a reservation name and if for a full table of eight or single/double, etc.

Questions and reservations: or call 636-451-4655 (Homestead Veterinary Hospital) during business hours.

Donations are needed for the silent auction, as well. All kinds of horse and non-horse items are welcome but in order to be accepted, the donor must fill out a form. Please call or email Dawn Elswick before shipping anything: 636-451-4655 or

Donations to the Animal Health Foundation are tax-deductible, although your deduction may vary according to your state's tax code and your personal tax status. AHF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Laminitis Research: Animal Health Foundation Studies, Scientists at Core of International Laminitis Conference

The following information is a press release from the Animal Health Foundation. Please feel free to share it on your website or Facebook page or in any other media you may think would be interested in news about laminitis research and education:

When the world’s leading laminitis researchers, scholars, clinicians, and farriers present their newest findings at the International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot in West Palm Beach, Florida in November, the work of the Animal Health Foundation (AHF) will take center stage.

Dr. Don Walsh
The announcement of the conference program and speaker list shows that critical laminitis research funded by the Animal Health Foundation will be shared at the conference by presenters from the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit (AELRU), Tufts University and Cornell University.

In addition, Donald Walsh DVM, president and founder of the Animal Health Foundation, will speak on his personal research into the history of relationships between obesity, grass founder and chronic laminitis. He’ll also moderate a panel with researcher Dr Nick Frank and change-agent farrier Gene Ovnicek, in which the clinical management of “real life” cases of metabolic laminitis will be analyzed.

Dr. Chris Pollitt
Chris Pollitt, BVSc, PhD, Director of the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit, will join Dr. Walsh on the faculty at the conference; his work has been supported by the Animal Health Foundation for many years. Dr. Pollitt will review the accomplishments of his team’s analysis of the function of the suspensory apparatus of the distal phalanx (coffin bone) and also reveal progress in early investigation of the lymphatic system in the equine foot.

In addition, Dr. Pollitt will present a stunning 3D process for creating digitally-enhanced equine anatomy models of hooves from CT scans, using a 3D printer. Dr. Pollitt has been a featured speaker at the six previous laminitis conferences.

Dr. Andrew van Eps
Traveling with Dr. Pollitt from Australia will be Andrew van Eps, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, DACVIM, who received his PhD at the University of Queensland by researching laminitis with Dr. Pollitt at the AELRU; his previous contributions have included the first studies of the use of cryotherapy (ice therapy) to prevent laminitis. At West Palm Beach this year, he will lecture on cryotherapy, support-limb laminitis, and the use of pain medication for horses with laminitis.

Dr. Nicholas Frank
The newest face on the AHF roster of researchers will also be a key speaker at the conference. Nicholas Frank, DVM, PhD, DACVIM is a professor of Large Animal Internal Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine of Tufts University, where he researches the endocrinopathic form of laminitis. His recent research to verify a new test to identify horses with insulin resistance was funded by the Animal Health Foundation.

Cornell University’s Samantha Brooks, PhD conducts laminitis studies funded by the Animal Health Foundation and submitted research that was accepted, but she is unable to present her lecture on the genetic mapping of susceptibility to endocrinopathy and laminitis.

To Learn More: The Laminitis Conference will be held November 1-3 at the Marriott Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida and will feature 60 lecturers and abstract presenters from five continents, a variety of educational formats, poster sessions, a trade show and social events. Visit to learn more.

About the Animal Health Foundation: The Animal Health Foundation funds research and education projects related to laminitis in the horse. That is all it does.

The Animal Health Foundation is an all-volunteer organization with an all-funds-to-research approach to finding both the cause and a cure for laminitis. Since 1984, the AHF has funneled $1.75 million dollars—most of it received in small donations from horse owners—directly into laminitis research. The grassroots-style organization is now known around the world as the critical driving force that is making a real difference in freeing horses of this terrible disease.

Appropriately, most donations are still written from the checkbooks of individual horse owners who have experienced the disease first-hand with their horses, and want to make a difference.

Donations to the AHF go directly to laminitis research and are fully tax-deductible. To learn more about the Animal Health Foundation: Animal Health Foundation, 3615 Bassett Road, Pacific, MO 63069;; or “like” AHF at

Photos for this article were kindly provided by Julie Plaster and Richard Booth.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jump for Joy: Joe Fargis Jumping Clinic Will Benefit Animal Health Foundation's Laminitis Research Effort


The Animal Health Foundation Jumping Clinic 
with Olympic Gold Medalist Joe Fargis 
Presented by Animal Health Foundation and Great Griffin Farm 
October 5-6, 2013 
at Great Griffin Farm, 903 Schwede Road, Wentzville, MO 63385 

Joe Fargis has written champions like
Touch of Class and Mill Pearl.
Olympic Gold Medalist Joe Fargis is coming to Great Griffin Farm! Joe Fargis, winner of two gold medals and one silver medal, is coming to Great Griffin Farm October 5 – 6, 2013. This is an amazing opportunity to learn from one of the great riders in our sport!

Session space will be limited to eight riders per group, so please register promptly.

Overnight stabling will be available on a limited basis. Please contact Griffin Farm directly to reserve stabling. 

Please note: Riders must submit the registration form and fee to be considered registered for the clinic, and spaces will be filled in a “first come first served” order. When the registration form with fee is received, you will be sent an email confirming that your are registered.

We are very excited about the high interest in the clinic, and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation and understanding.

Go to clinic registration web page 

Sponsored by: Homestead Veterinary Hospital, Griffin Farm, Zoetis, and Purina

Photo of Joe Fargis via Julia Seltz/Seltz Equine Media on

Sunday, June 30, 2013

AHF Laminitis Q & A: Should a horse with laminitis be on a “senior” feed?

Reader Question: Should Equine Senior (a complete feed) be fed to a horse with laminitis?

AHF Answer: The answer to your question regarding “Equine Senior” (a complete feed manufactured by Purina Mills) would depend on the cause of the horse's laminitis.

If the laminitis is being caused by elevated insulin levels, such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (“EMS”), or Cushing's disease, then the dietary levels of carbohydrates becomes an important issue to stop the laminitis. Eating carbohydrates elevates insulin, perpetuating the laminitis.

For horses with this common problem, diets that are designed to be lower in carbohydrates than a “Senior” diet would be preferable.

Purina has a low-starch (“L/S”) diet that has been designed to have a lower insulin response to the carbohydrates in the diet. A new test called the Oral Sugar Test can be performed on your horse to see what the animals response to eating sugar (carbohydrates) by measuring the insulin level after giving an oral dose of light Karo syrup.

Do you know the cause of your horse’s laminitis?

I suggest you watch the Animal Health Foundation’s laminitis video series (one video is embedded above in this article; it explains chronic laminitis). It will help you understand more about how insulin causes laminitis and how to manage the diet.
Dr. Don Walsh
I hope this is helpful to you and good luck with your horse in managing the disease.

Donald Walsh, DVM
Animal Health Foundation

Note: There are "senior" feeds made by several feed companies. While we have mentioned the familiar and original Purina senior product, the same advice would hold for not only senior feeds but any feed for a horse with laminitis: find out if your horse's laminitis is related to a metabolic condition that would suggest a low-starch feed might be a better choice.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Laminitis Soundbite: Why do veterinarians say there are two kinds of ponies?

The Animal Health Foundation has been working quietly but steadily for the past 30 years to fund research around the world that will put an end to laminitis.

Some of this research has required looking more closely at the way horses' feet function. Other projects looked at the roles of enzymes, gut flora, hormones and grass types. We've funded research into causes, treatments, pathways and prevention. Researchers in the United States, Australia and Europe have collaborated under the AHF banner.

In fact, laminitis research is all we fund.

When we're done--and not until then--there will be three types of ponies that veterinarians can include in their quips. The third type will be the one that never has had laminitis, and never will, because of the dedicated support of people like you--people who want to see an end to the suffering and pain of laminitis in horses.

If anyone tells you that laminitis is all figured out, that they have the answers, or that your horse isn't in danger, don't believe it. We are close to understanding the disease, which has many forms, but we are not there yet.

With your help, we might accomplish our goal, and your horse will be able to live its life without the fear of this disease. Until we have all the answers, no horse is truly safe.

Things might not be as grim as the old veterinarians' joke, but there is still much we don't know or understand.

Please support the work of the Animal Health Foundation. We donate 100 percent of donations directly to research. We want the same answers you do, for your horses and ours.

Click to access AHF's laminitis research donation page

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Make the Call: Laminitis 911 and the First Veterinary Examination

First-response advice from the Animal Health Foundation’s Donald M. Walsh, DVM

Your horse is lame. Very lame. 
It's time to call the vet.
What happens next?

You’ve been watching your horse closely. At first you weren’t sure; maybe he was just stiff. But this morning you know something more than that is wrong. You had to pull him out of his stall. He didn’t want to turn around to be clipped into the cross-ties. He’s shifting his weight. When he does walk, he looks like he’s leaning back on his heels.

When the other horses buck and play in the pasture, he’s standing by the gate. You touch his feet and they’re warm. You can feel a strong, bounding pulse at the back of his pastern. He won’t let you pick up a foot.

This is it. You’re calling the vet. You describe the symptoms and yes! this is a medical emergency.

Donald Walsh, DVM is a veterinarian
in the St. Louis, Missouri area
(Julie Plaster image)
The vet will be there today.


Now what?

Your vet will likely confirm your fears: your horse has laminitis. But what will s/he do, exactly--and why?

The emergency call for laminitis symptoms is indeed the equine equivalent of a 911 call. Your vet may be squeezing you into an already busy day, so it could be a short appointment, to be continued the following day, or even an appointment with someone who is not your regular veterinarian.

While you are waiting, get the horse to a well-lit place where the vet can exam him and where he is comfortable. A deeply bedded stall may help, or Soft Ride boots, if you own some.

Try to get your horse to relax. If bringing him into a stall upsets him, bring in another horse from an adjacent stall or put another horse on cross-ties where your horse can see him. If your horse is excitable, keep barn activity to a minimum.

Your vet may instruct you not to feed the horse or allow him to have hay or to graze. This is because blood hormone tests will be done. Hormone tests give the most reliable results if the horse has had no hay, grass or grain for three to four hours.

The vet may instruct you to put ice on the horse’s feet and lower legs.

Follow all instructions carefully. Do not give any medications unless you are instructed to do so by your vet.

If you still have some time, get a camera or use your phone and take several photos of your horse from different angles. Take some close up photos of his hooves. Date-stamp the photos if you can.

This might also be a good time to call your farrier. Explain that you are waiting for the veterinarian, but that you may need his or her help to remove/replace shoes or do some work on the hooves. You may wish to book a first-available appointment.

Keep the horse as calm and
 comfortable as possible while
you wait for the vet.
( photo)
Here are some steps that should be taken at the first appointment:

1. A quick veterinary exam of the horse will check vital signs and look for any symptoms of other diseases. If you are not a client of the veterinarian’s practice, you might want to have medical records, old radiographs, and photos ready to show if they’re needed.

The vet will want to know what caused the laminitis, so the cause can be removed. You may be asked questions like:

• how old is the horse? what medications is he on?

• has the horse had laminitis before?

• has the horse recently been ill, gorged on grain, or been vaccinated?

• has the horse ever been tested for Cushing’s disease or Equine Metabolic Syndrome? On what date and by whom were the tests done?

• have you recently transported the horse a long distance?

• has the horse’s hay or grain ration or turnout schedule changed recently or have you started to feed a new load of hay?

• are any other horses on your property exhibiting similar symptoms?

• was the horse shod or trimmed recently? Did you just change farriers?

2. Assuming the horse has not had laminitis before, a vet will usually want to take radiographs. S/he may or may not want to remove the horse’s shoes to do this. A good set of radiographs early in the onset of laminitis will provide a baseline for comparison if any damage happens done later. Any older radiographs you may have will be helpful to the vet to see how the horse’s alignment and hoof wall thickness at an earlier date.

Your veterinarian may take new radiographs and review some from your horse's medical history as well. Be sure to share any radiographs that you have on hand. (BU Photojournalism photo)

3. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory or other medications. Write down dosages and frequency so you will remember.

4. Latest protocols advise veterinarians to take blood for hormone testing as soon as possible. Your vet will draw a syringe of blood from the horse’s neck region. This will only take a minute but it is an important step. These tests will show two things:
  • levels of insulin in the blood; high levels of insulin are associated with both Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushing’s Disease;
  • levels of ACTH, a pituitary gland hormone; high levels of ACTH are associated with Cushing’s Disease.
A horse with Equine Metabolic Syndrome will have high insulin levels and normal ACTH. A horse with Cushing’s Disease will have high levels of both ACTH and insulin.

Your veterinarian will tell you when to expect the test results. A normal turnaround time is three to five business days.

If your veterinarian does not suggest blood hormone tests be done, request that they be taken anyway. Early radiographs and blood tests are a good investment.

If your veterinarian does not suggest blood hormone tests be done, request that they be taken anyway. Early radiographs and blood tests are a good investment. (Don Walsh image)
Knowing what to expect means that you will be prepared when the veterinarian arrives and you can concentrate on listening rather than running to get things that are needed. Be sure to have a pen and paper handy. Use them.

Sometimes these situations turn out to be something other than laminitis. Sometimes the horse recovers quickly--almost spontaneously. But if the horse has shown signs consistent with laminitis, it may happen again and you need to know what is causing these symptoms, which can have gradually debilitating effects on your horse’s feet and overall health.

Remove the cause and you will begin to reverse the symptoms of laminitis.

When your horse shows signs of discomfort, is reluctant to walk, has heat in the feet and a bounding pastern pulse, you need to call your vet and explain that this is an emergency. Work with your vet to find the cause, remove the cause, and watch your horse carefully until he is well again. The information from your first laminitis-911 veterinary appointment is critical to successfully caring for your horse and could impact his health for years to come.

--Dr. Walsh

It is easier to prevent laminitis than to treat it. And it is easier to treat laminitis if the veterinarian is called immediately and sees the horse to take tests and radiographs before the disease advances. The Animal Health Foundation is dedicated to fighting laminitis in all its forms and stages, and we thank you for your donation to continue the important research that needs to be done to fully understand this disease. Use the "donate" button in the column at right to send a donation via PayPal or learn more about how to donate.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Are you ready to join the "Laminitis Revolution" webinar?

A much-anticipated webinar on endocrine laminitis is scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, at 8 pm London time, which is probably about 3 pm New York time or 2 pm St Louis time.

British veterinary surgeon David Rendle, from the Liphook Equine Hospital in Hampshire, England, will discuss how the veterinary profession’s understanding of laminitis has been revolutionized in recent years and provide useful tips to help you manage this debilitating disease.

Learn lots, lots more about laminitis and Cushing's disease at the website

Visit to "join the revolution" (by attending the seminar).

Friday, March 29, 2013

AHF's Laminitis Q+A: What's the Key to Using a Grazing Muzzle on a Horse on Pasture?

Q. I promised my vet I’d be more consistent about using a grazing muzzle on my horse this spring when the grass turns green. I’m not sure I did it right last year. Can you give me some advice? 

A. (AHF) Grazing muzzles are effective in reducing the horse’s ability to eat grass.

The problem is that there seems to be a variety of reactions to wearing one. Most horses and ponies fight them at first. I assume this is because of frustration at trying to eat. I tell clients to teach them how to eat on a mown lawn so they learn how to push grass through the hole.

Then again, one client described how her pony got help from his two buddies, who both pulling at once on the muzzle. So far, three-horse power has won the fight of the muzzle.

Other horses, once accustomed to wearing one, seem to accept it and in those horses they remain trim and healthy.

The benefit of the exercise they are getting being turned out in very important to controlling insulin levels in all horses.

The movement is also important to strengthen the laminae in the foot.

--Don Walsh DVM for the Animal Health Foundation

How about you? Have you used a grazing muzzle on a horse at pasture? What was your experience? Do you have something to add to Dr. Walsh's tips?

Use the comment box below to add your advice about grazing muzzles.

Photo by Judith Whelan--thanks! You can post of a photo of your horse wearing his or her grazing muzzle on the Animal Health Foundation's Facebook page:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spring Ahead: The Animal Health Foundation’s Planning Guide to Avoiding Seasonal Laminitis

Horse owners look forward to spring, and horses do too. But first you have to get through winter, and mud season, and shedding season.

There’s a lot of work to do before spring even gets here. The most important plan you need to have is how to make sure your horse doesn’t suffer from laminitis this spring. The biggest majority of laminitis cases happen when horses are turned out on green grass. Yet out of every group of horses, some will handle the grass just fine, while others will develop telltale lameness.

Which group would your horse be in? And do you know?

Use our list of suggestions to get ready for spring. Be prepared for the emergency of laminitis, and hope that you won’t have to worry about it.

You need to see your horse’s feet when they are freshly trimmed. Look for signs of blood, a flat sole and a stretched white line. Ask your farrier if your horse’s feet looked this way on the previous trim. Exercise and a change in diet will help your horse’s feet. 

1. Is your horse at risk for laminitis? Any horse can get laminitis. Your horse may have been the one who never got laminitis in the past, but horses change. As they age, their metabolism changes. They are more susceptible to Equine Metabolic Syndrome (insulin-resistance) and Cushings disease. Obese or “easy keeper” horses are at especially high risk.

2. Have you moved your horse or has your pasture changed? Changes in the grass itself, the size of the pasture available, the number of horses in the paddock, and the number of hours and time of day your horse is turned out can affect the laminitis risk. Even the weather can affect how much carbohydrate is in the grass.

3. How much are you feeding your horse? Grain, hay and grazing each contribute calories and carbohydrates to your horse’s diet. If your horse is on grain, start cutting back before the grass comes in. If your horse is overweight during the winter, he will have a significant increase in calories when the grass is added in the spring.

Don’t just look at the foot; look at what the farrier has trimmed off, before your dog can grab it. Is the white line tight or is it stretched and deformed like this hoof clipping? Arrows point to area of hemorrhage where the coffin bone pressed on the sole; circled area shows blood in the stretched white line. 

4. Have you had your hay tested? You probably don’t know if your hay has more or less calories than last year’s hay. If you think there is any possibility that your horse is at risk for laminitis, you can soak your hay. Visit for information on soaking hay from Katy Watts, a researcher funded by the Animal Health Foundation.

5. What is the condition of your horses’ hooves? Schedule a spring appointment with the farrier and be there when she or he trims your horse’s feet. Look for a stretched white line, tiny signs of blood in the white line, and rings on the outer hoof wall. These are possible signs of insulin resistance and should be considered warning signs. Whether you see those signs or not, it is a good idea to take photos of your horse’s feet.

6. How much does your horse weigh? How much did he weigh last year? Get a weigh tape and follow the instructions to compute your horse’s weight. Plan to use the tape again, once a month, through the spring.

7. Have you felt your horse’s ribs lately? Your horse will probably be shedding a lot in March. While you are brushing your horse, feel the ribs, or try to. Did you feel them in the fall? Are you using a different hole in your girth, or have you said lately that you need to get a bigger girth? These are warning signs that your horse is overweight.

Grab your camera and take some photos of your horse’s feet from closeup, like this. You can show these photos to your vet and have something for comparison if your horse’s feet get worse--or better! 
8. Do you have supplies for laminitis? If your horse has had laminitis before, you may already have a halter muzzle, styrofoam hoof blocks, supplies for icing your horse’s feet, Soft-Ride boots, poultice, and other supplies in your tack trunk. Pull them out and see that you are well stocked for another year, even if you don’t need them.

9. Does your horse show subtle signs of foot discomfort? Do you notice that your horse doesn’t stand patiently when you clean his feet or does he suddenly not want to lift a foot for you? Is your horse less active during turnout than he used to be? There are many reasons for these problems, but a predisposition to laminitis is high on the list.

10. Can you get your horse into a daily exercise program? This might be the most important thing you can do for your horse’s feet. Just fifteen minutes each day of lungeing or working your horse in a round pen can make a big difference in your horse’s metabolism. It is also easier to exercise a horse that isn’t lame. Losing some weight and adjusting the metabolism will decrease the risk of your horse developing laminitis.

What are you doing to anticipate spring for your horses? Does your barn or farm have a plan? Use the comment form below to tell the Animal Health Foundation what you are planning for this spring, so other horse owners can learn from your good ideas!

As always, thanks for supporting the Animal Health Foundation and giving feedback that puts you right in the middle of laminitis research.

Story by Fran Jurga
Photos by Donald Walsh, DVM
© Animal Health Foundation 2013, all rights reserved

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Prevent Laminitis, Rule #1: Video Evidence Why Horses Are at Risk

Mariska the Friesian is not acting, she is just doing her mischievous best to get to where she wants to be--in the feed room. But sometimes that can get a horse in a lot of trouble--like laminitis!

Whenever the Animal Health Foundation presents a program on laminitis prevention, you will always hear Dr. Walsh say that there is one very simple thing that all horse owners can do to prevent laminitis.

You might think he's about to prescribe a new medication, or a pasture plan or a high-tech pair of horseshoes. But he's not.

In his best James Herriott voice he admonishes, "Each and every one of you should go home and put a lock on the door to your grain rooms."

And he's right, of course.

Feeding Time at Fort Myer
Horses know the routine. They also know where the grain lives.
The type of laminitis caused by a horse's midnight feast on grain is known as "grain overload". This can be a very serious form of laminitis--and it is totally preventable.

Veterinarians often get phone calls from worried horse owners who say, "Bobo got loose in the night and broke into the grain room!" The vet knows that the risk of laminitis is suddenly very real, and that time is of the essence, if the horse ate a sizable quantity or if was already at risk for laminitis. 

The vet also knows that the horse's binge could have been prevented.

The worst calls, the ones that vets really dread, is "She got into the grain again."

If your horse ever gets into the grain, call your vet immediately. She or he will give you instructions of what to do, both for potential colic and laminitis prevention. Follow those instructions, and say a little prayer.

But today is the ideal day to check all the latches and locks on your horses' stalls and gates, and particularly the lock on your grain room door. Make sure it isn't a flimsy door, either, because horses can be destructive burglars. 

This is especially true of barns that portion out feed buckets at night for ease of feeding in the morning. The horses can probably smell the grain, especially if it's sweet feed. Keep grain in a bin with a latch. If you have to portion feed in advance, try to use buckets that stack inside each other, and put them into a latched bin.

We all need to protect our horses from their own appetites--and their curiosity!
As for Mariska, all's well that ends well. The feed room is now carefully locked and, in fact, all the locks and latches on the Misty Meadows Farm have been replaced so Mariska's mischief days are over...unless someone forgets! To think her owners put the grain in the freezer, thinking it would be safe!

Thanks very much to Sandy Bonem of Midland Michigan, for both making the video and sharing it, and giving up so much follow-up information. We're glad that Mariska and her friends are both beautiful and smart, and hope that we'll see another video in the future.

Be sure to read the followup blog post about Mariska and the popularity of this video, which has now been viewed over 600,000 times.

Barn aisle photo by Paul Shillinger. Horse in stall by Amanda Tipton.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year of Laminitis Research and Exciting Discoveries

The Animal Health Foundation Will Support Your
Horses' Health Through Laminitis Research in 2013...

Will You Support the Foundation's Laminitis Research In Return?

The challenge of laminitis is bigger than any of us, but it's not bigger than all of us.

Please end your old year begin your new year by funding research that benefits horses who have laminitis today, and that will prevent future horses from getting laminitis in the first place.

Laminitis research through the Animal Health Foundation attacks the disease on many levels, from the most high-tech science to simplifying insulin resistance testing. We're fighting laminitis in the laboratory, in the vet hospitals, in the shoeing shops and--most of all--in your barn. And your neighbor's barn.

But AHF doesn't stop there.

Soon, horse owners and veterinarians will work together to test 
horses for insulin resistance, a common risk indicator 
for laminitis, with a simple, inexpensive test currently 
in research by the AHF. 

Our research is affecting what goes on in the feed store--and the seed store, too. On the hay truck. In that bucket of supplements you just ordered, or the contents of the horse treats you just stuffed in your pocket.

The Animal Health Foundation attacks laminitis on all these fronts because everywhere we look, we see laminitis that could have been prevented--if we'd only known a year or two ago what we know now, thanks to the funds that you have put into the study of this terrible disease.

Did your horse have laminitis in 2012? 
The work of the Animal Health Foundation means that
the chance of your horse having laminitis in 2013 has been reduced. 

As you know, laminitis affects horses of all ages and all breeds and you only have to visit an auction or horse rescue farm to see how many unwanted horses have come to these places because of either active laminitis or evidence of a history of the disease. 

No matter how large or small your donation may be, your dollars will get you involved in the forward progress of our work to stop laminitis. We can do so much more for horses, with your help. 

Today's the day, and the champagne will taste much sweeter 
(or drier, depending on your vintage) if you know 
you ended your year on a horse-helpful note. 

Please contact AHF if you'd like to know more specific information about our future research projects that are in need of funding support and remember that your donations--large and small--have made a huge difference in fighting this disease in the past and will in the future, as well.

P.S. Be sure to sign up for the Animal Health Foundation's email newsletter to receive the latest news; the box is in the upper right corner of this web page.

Follow AHF on Twitter, too. 

And have you had a chance to "like" our Facebook page yet?