Monday, November 30, 2015

AHF-funded laminitis research proves role of the equine gastrointestinal system in high insulin levels and laminitis risk

The Animal Health Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of a new study funded by donations to AHF's laminitis research fund. This study demonstrated that the digestive system contributes to high insulin levels and laminitis risk in some ponies. "Equine hyperinsulinemia: investigation of the enteroinsular axis during insulin dysregulation" was published earlier this month by the American Physiological Society, and is summarized here.

Researcher Melody de Laat, PhD, BVSc and Professor Martin Sillence, PhD from Queensland University of Technology in Australia recently completed an Animal Health Foundation funded investigation of some of the gastrointestinal factors proposed to play an important role in causing hyperinsulinaemia (high blood insulin levels) in ponies.

The aim of the study was to determine what contribution specialized gastrointestinal hormones, called incretins, make to the insulin response to carbohydrate-rich meals in ponies. During the study, they examined the insulin and incretin responses to sugar when it was given orally and intravenously in a group of ponies, as well as the ponies' responses to standard commercial grain meals.


The glucose contained in feed is released and absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream after eating; it stimulates the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin ensures that glucose is taken up into cells where it is either used for energy production or stored for later use.

During obesity or equine metabolic syndrome, this process becomes abnormal ("insulin dysregulation"), and more insulin than usual is released after eating. High insulin concentrations in horses/ponies can increase a horse or pony’s risk of laminitis.

Incretin hormones are produced by special cells in the small intestine after a meal is eaten. These hormones, called GLP-1 and GIP, stimulate the pancreas so that it produces even more insulin than it would normally, in response to glucose. The additive effect of incretin hormones on insulin production has not been determined previously in ponies, but it was known that incretins can increase insulin production substantially in other species.

Primary results

Drs de Laat and Sillence confirmed that hyperinsulinaemic ponies (ponies with abnormally high insulin levels), after consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal, also had high concentrations of the active form of the incretin GLP-1. 

However, normal ponies secreted much less GLP-1. 

Another incretin hormone, GIP, was also increased by a high-carbohydrate meal in ponies, but it was not different between normal and hyperinsulinaemic ponies. 

Importance of findings

These findings are important because drugs that can block the action of GLP-1 at its receptor can now be investigated as a treatment for reducing hyperinsulinaemia in horses. Dr de Laat and her team are currently busy in the laboratory working on this!

However, despite confirming a significant role for the incretins, overall the study found that glucose was the most important stimulator of insulin production in ponies following a meal. The study also found that hyperinsulinaemic ponies absorb more glucose from their feed than normal ponies, and Drs de Laat and Sillence are continuing to investigate the differences in glucose absorption between normal and hyperinsulinaemic ponies.

Additional findings

Given that the researchers found that the digestive system plays an important role in hyperinsulinaemia, they also wanted to investigate whether ponies that had insulin dysregulation always also suffered from tissue resistance to the actions of insulin (insulin resistance). 

They found that ponies could have abnormally high insulin responses to a high-carbohydrate diet repeatedly, but still be classified as normal on an intravenous test for insulin resistance. This important finding indicates that the problem of hyperinsulinaemia in horses likely originates in the gut rather than in other tissues, and that this is where future investigations should focus. 

Changes in testing
Furthermore, the results indicate that veterinarians should use oral sugar tests when assessing a horse or pony for equine metabolic syndrome, rather than intravenous tests, so that the test results include an assessment of the gastrointestinal system. 

Importance of study

By showing that hyperinsulinaemia can occur independently of tissue insulin resistance, Drs de Laat and Sillence confirmed that gastrointestinal factors are a very important part of insulin dysregulation in ponies.

Article © 2015 Animal Health Foundation. No use without permission. 

The Animal Health Foundation is interested in how the hormone insulin is regulated and utlized in the horse. We are funding extensive research in Australia in this area and welcome you to join us in supporting this project. Your large and small donations are welcome.

You may use the "donate" button in the sidebar to make your donation, or click on the "donate" tab at the top of the page for more options. The AHF Memorial Wall is another way to make a donation, by remembering a horse whose name will be posted with yours on our growing memorial wall. Your donation will go directly to fund laminitis research. Thank you.

To learn more:

Equine hyperinsulinemia: investigation of the enteroinsular axis during insulin dysregulation
Melody A de Laat, James M McGree, Martin N. Sillence
American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism Published online 3 November 2015

Note: the study was published online by the American Physiological Society and will appear in a future edition of the Society's journal.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Video Preview: Animal Health Foundation Prepares to Celebrate 30 Years of Laminitis Research

Saturday night, the Animal Health Foundation will celebrate thirty years of funding laminitis research projects that have helped change the face to the disease and how horses are treated for it.

Here's a preview of the celebration, a Fox News television interview with AHF founder Dr. Don Walsh in St. Louis that aired yesterday. That's Diana Walsh in the background. Listen to them talk about the preparations for this weekend's celebration

Both of the horses in the video were donated to the Foundation and are cared for by Dr. Walsh. The gray was an Andalusian dressage horse; the pony, Christopher Robin, has been a great subject for many of Dr. Walsh's personal stories about the metabolic form of laminitis that you hear during his lectures.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Celebrate 30 Years of Laminitis Research and Education with the Animal Health Foundation on October 24

30th Anniversay Celebration of Animal Health Foundation
Saturday, October 24
5:30pm - 10pm
The Sheldon Concert Hall

Recognize the gallant efforts of this organization with a celebratory awards dinner, silent auction and enjoy excellent entertainment by internationally-recognized jazz singer, Denise Thimes! 

Ladue News Article

What is Laminitis?

Laminitis is a painful, inflammatory condition affecting horses. The laminae begin to deteriotate and this results in the destruction of the normal blood supply, causing severe pain to the horse.
To compound this issue, a common result of laminitis, known as Founder, causes the coffin bone within the foot to "rotate" downward, putting pressure on the sole of the foot, sometimes even puncturing it.

Who is AHF?

AHF is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization, located in the St. Louis, MO area. Our primary goal is to find a way to prevent laminitis and founder complications in horses.
To that end, we donate funds to major researchers in the field of laminitis. Because the organization’s board of directors personally pays all administrative costs, all other donations received from the public go directly to fund work on laminitis.
The damage to their feet prevents them from running and moving in herds, grazing, fleeing from threats or competing. When horses lose their physical abilities, they also lose their spirits to live.
Laminitis doesn't discriminate. A top-level performance horse can be as easily affected as a beloved backyard pony. Laminitis is responsible for the premature loss of the legendary and seemingly invincible Secretariat.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can you tell which horse will get laminitis?

Maybe one of these horses will develop laminitis. Maybe all of them will. All horses are at risk for laminitis yet only a small percentage actually becomes lame from the disease.  (Aline Sagrebelny photo)

Can you tell which of the horses in the photo will get laminitis? You might think this is a trick question, and you’re right: it is. That’s because any of these horses might develop laminitis.

The point is: all horses are at risk for laminitis.

The Animal Health Foundation is 
interested in how the hormone insulin is
regulated and utlized in the horse.
We are funding extensive research
in Australia in this area and welcome
you to join us in supporting this
project. Your large and small donations
are welcome.
Here at Homestead Veterinary Hospital, where the Animal Health Foundation began, many horses have been nursed through laminitis. And when they arrived, there were very few similarities between them, other than they were all in severe pain. While it is true that horses who become lame with laminitis sometimes display physical signs of Equine Metabolic Syndrome (cresty neck, swollen sheath, irregular fat deposits) or Equine Cushing’s Disease (long, late-shedding hair coat, fat deposits over the eyes, muscle wasting), there are just as many horses that show no exaggerated outward signs. But these horses do tend to have elevated hormone levels.

Other horses develop laminitis after giving birth or undergoing colic surgery, eating too much grain, galloping on pavement, bearing weight unequally after an injury, or reacting badly to drugs or stress. So, no horse is ever 100 percent exempt from the risk of laminitis.

What can a horse owner do? Over the years, we have closely followed all the veterinary research related to laminitis prevention, and the Animal Health Foundation funded a fair share of it. Risk factors do exist, and some simple blood tests performed annually and evaluated by consistent laboratory standards will provide benchmarks to track changes in your horse's metabolism. This will help with the endocrine forms of laminitis, which are the most common types: Equine Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance) and PPID (Cushing's Disease) account for as many as 80 to 90 percent (1) of laminitis cases, depending on which studies you read.

The telltale signs of pre-existing laminitis, typically seen in horses with insulin resistance, can be seen in hoof tissue when it is trimmed. The white line is stretched and may be flecked with red, as seen quite vividly in the trimmings of this pony treated at the Homestead Veterinary Hospital. (Donald M. Walsh file photo)

With all types of laminitis, it is critical that horses be kept on a regular trimming or shoeing schedule with an informed farrier who knows the early warning signs of hoof problems and will keep you updated on any changes he or she sees in your horse's feet. This will give you a chance to get your vet involved sooner instead of later.

Your farrier should be watching for telltale signs of stretching in the white line or discoloration and bruising in the wall and sole and flecks of dried blood in the white line. Rings in the hoof wall are a common sign, but can be caused by other problems, as well.

Some early signs can be seen in how a horse handles turning, even in the barn aisle on the leadline. Watch for a horse that throws its head and uses its body to make the turn. Under saddle, a horse may suddenly resist lead changes, not want to canter at all, or throw its head and pins its ears when you come to the end of the long side of the ring. These behaviors may indicate many different types of lameness, but laminitis is certainly one to consider.

Notice how your horse stands, and watch for any changes of where he places his feet in relation to his body. You may see some changes as you are cleaning your horse's hooves. Pay attention when and if your horse starts to resist lifting one or more feet. Some horses with long pasterns will back their feet up under their front limbs so their pasterns look shorter and the knee wants to buckle forward; this is their way of relieving tension on the deep digital flexor tendon. These horses will lift one foot and then the other to relieve pain. They rock back and forth, but won't want you to pick up either one.

Dr. Walsh is the veterinarian
who started the Animal Health 
Other horses will stretch their pasterns so their weight is on their heels, and their feet will look like they are out in front of the leg. They look uncomfortable, as if they are nailed to the spot, and won't want to lift either foot.

With all of these signs, you may feel a strong pulse at the back of the pastern of one or both front feet and the hoof wall may feel warmer than normal. It won't hurt to soak your horse's feet in ice while you call your vet, describe the symptoms, make sure the person on the other end knows you are describing a possible emergency, and that you need immediate advice.

Laminitis can make us all feel challenged, but when we have the advantage of an early start and a good medical history, we have a much better chance of a successful outcome. You can help your horse avoid laminitis or catch it early if you know what to look for and what to do.

Thanks for supporting the Animal Health Foundation. Many of the little management tips we share with our clients and with audiences at lectures are the result of studies performed at Homestead Veterinary Hospital and by research funded by donors to the Animal Health Foundation. It all adds up to progress that will help your horses, and ours.

--Don Walsh, DVM
Animal Health Foundation


(1) Karikoski NP, Horn I, McGowan TW, McGowan CM. The prevalence of endocrinopathic laminitis among horses presented for laminitis at a first-opinion/referral equine hospital. Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2011;41(3):111-117.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Animal Health Foundation's Laminitis Research Grant Anchors Australian Project Expansion

Australian laminitis research grant via Animal Health Foundation

Summary: The Animal Health Foundation, a leading non-profit organization in the United States dedicated solely to laminitis research, has partnered with private and government research organizations in Australia to mastermind a collaborative laminitis research grant through the Australian Research Council (ARC). The grant, begun with three years of funding pledged by AHF, will investigate a new treatment for acute laminitis.

Last week the Australian Research Council (ARC) officially announced the award of a major research grant to investigate a new treatment of equine laminitis. By partnering with Queensland University of Technology (QUT), The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland and Nexvet Biopharma Pty Ltd, the Animal Health Foundation has turned a pledge of $36,000US over three years into a project with a total cash value of $479,500AUD and a total cash and in-kind value of $1,015,000AUD through a special ARC program.

Professor Sillence
ARC’s Industry Linkage Scheme supports research partnerships between Australian universities and industry partners worldwide. The scheme plan is highly competitive and the laminitis grant represents one of only a handful awarded for equine research over the past 10 years.

Professor Martin Sillence, PhD at QUT will lead the project, which will commence in the fall of 2016.


Eight years ago, when Sillence and his team were investigating pasture-induced laminitis, they discovered that the disease can be triggered by excessively high insulin levels. Since then, the team has been able to accurately identify ponies at risk and advance understanding of the cause of equine hyperinsulinaemia.

Sillence and his team are even on the verge of developing a preventative treatment. However, once the insulin levels pass a certain threshold value and laminitis sets in, there is little that can be done to arrest the condition.

New research and treatment

The ARC grant will explore a new treatment for acute laminitis that will utilize antibodies to block the receptors that are over-stimulated by insulin. The key to success will be to make the antibodies specific for the correct target receptors, and to make them 'friendly' to the horse's immune system so that these large proteins are not recognized as foreign, triggering adverse reactions or a counter-immune response.

This is where Nexvet Biopharma will lend expertise. Nexvet Biopharma is an Australian-based global company dedicated to the development of species-specific therapeutic proteins for animals. Through its patented PETization™ process, Nexvet transforms human therapeutic proteins into veterinary medications that can be administered safely to a target animal, such as the horse. Nexvet Biopharma is the only stand-alone veterinary company in the world dedicated to this approach.

The research project will run for three years and will involve active participation by the Animal Health Foundation.

About the Animal Health Foundation: AHF is an all-volunteer US charity begun by Missouri veterinarian Donald M. Walsh 30 years ago for his clients who lost horses to laminitis. Since then, it has grown to fund laminitis education and research projects worldwide. Many advances in laminitis prevention, diagnosis and treatment are linked to AHF grant assistance, which is now approaching a total of $2 million. AHF receives most of its donations from horse owners or from veterinarians and farriers in memory of horses with laminitis they've tried to help; AHF funnels 100% of all donations directly to research. In 2014, AHF launched a Laminitis Memorial Wall on the Foundation's website; it is slated for permanent development as a remembrance site for horses who fought the disease. Large and small donations to AHF are fully tax deductible, and always welcome.

Click here to donate.
Click here to contact AHF.
Visit AHF on Facebook.
Follow AHF on Twitter.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Animal Health Foundation's 30th Year Anniversary Celebration to Benefit Laminitis Research

Planning is underway for the Animal Health Foundation's 30th Anniversary Celebration event on October 24, 2015 at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, Missouri.  The event includes an award dinner and premier entertainment in an intimate setting. Funds raised by the event will directly support leading laminitis research; sponsorships are available for companies and individuals.  

Many people have generously contributed to the AHF mission in the past that has supported leading-edge research and discoveries. Continuing the 30-year legacy of the Animal Health Foundation's founder, Donald Walsh, DVM is critical.  Animal Health Foundation donors have traditionally been horse owners who have first-hand experience with the disease and want to make a difference by directly supporting cutting-edge research at leading universities. Many other donors are veterinarians, equine hospitals, equine product and pharmaceutical manufacturers, farriers and hoof trimmers.  Due to research findings, equine practitioners have successfully intervened more often to save horses' lives, yet they want research to advance so that more can be done to prevent and cure laminitis. In 2015, Animal Health Foundation funds are supporting pioneering research on the role of incretins in equine insulin production and regulation at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia as well as ongoing research projects in the United States. 

For more information about sponsorships or early event registration, please contact Jane Unger at 314-367-8118 or

Friday, January 2, 2015

Remember horses who fought laminitis: AHF's Memorial Wall rises to honor past pain with future research

©Sarah K. Andrew Secretariat's Grave Laminitis Memorial Wall
Laminitis is equally painful to every horse, whether a champion racehorse or a child's pony. The Memorial Wall will unite the names of horses from all time periods, and from all parts of the world who have suffered the pain of laminitis. With the help of research and education, future horses may be spared the fear of laminitis and the knowledge of its pain.
Ponies like Flash and Casey are right up there with Secretariat and Barbaro. Beloved trail and amateur show horses Little Dixie, Chief, and Midnight are not far behind.
The Animal Health Foundation (AHF), a US charity dedicated exclusively to funding laminitis research, has set a new goal: to make sure that no horse with laminitis is ever forgotten. Thanks to a new website page just for them, the most famous racehorse and the most unknown pony will share their own special place on the web and in search engine results, in memory of their struggle with the painful disease of laminitis.
A fledgling “memorial wall” list was launched at Christmas on the Animal Health Foundation (AHF) website ( Donors to the AHF in 2015 may personalize a monetary gift by attaching a horse’s name and a human’s name. The names will appear on the web page, alongside others from all over the world and beneath a stunning photograph by New Jersey racing photographer Sarah K. Andrew, showing red roses draped over Secretariat’s grave at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky.
Secretariat may be the most famous horse to have had laminitis; 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was instrumental in bringing the disease to more public attention. Laminitis was listed as the cause of euthanasia for both horses.
Among the successful horses reported to have died from complications of laminitis in 2014 were Kentucky Thoroughbred sire Noble Causeway in May, 2014 Kentucky Derby starter Intense Holiday in June, California Thoroughbred stallion Thorn Song in August, Saudi show jumping stallion Presley Boy, Australian champion Standardbred filly Mindarie Priddy and Australian Thoroughbred sire Sequalo in September, and New York Thoroughbred sire Disco Rico in December.
While famous horses will be welcome on the "wall", all names are listed in the same size type, and by the order in which their donations were received. Beloved children’s ponies will mix in with champion racehorses; retired roping horses will mingle with pedigreed warmbloods.
Laminitis Memorial Wall invitation Animal Health Foundation
Every donation to the Animal Health Foundation qualifies one horse to be added to the wall.
Many donors to the Animal Health Foundation have traditionally been horse owners who have first-hand experience with the disease and want to make a difference by directly supporting cutting-edge research at leading universities. Many have made donations in the memory of special horses in the past but no ongoing list was compiled. Now the list will be maintained and amended with the names of more horses and donors as they are received.
Many other donors are veterinarians, equine hospitals, farriers and hoof trimmers who struggle with the disease and want to see research advance. They may now make a donation in the memory of a horse they worked on, and the bereaved owners who hired them.
In 2014, the Animal Health Foundation celebrated ongoing research on the role of insulin in the metabolic form of the disease from the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland, as well as results of an AHF-funded study at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine verifying a simple new “Oral Sugar Test”:  horses likely to develop the metabolic form of laminitis have a higher insulin response after a direct dose of oral sugar.
In 2015, AHF funds are supporting pioneering research on the role of incretins in equine insulin production and regulation at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, as well as ongoing research projects.
laminitis research and education Animal Health Foundation

The Animal Health Foundation continues to uphold its unbroken 30-year promise to donors: One hundred percent of all public donations to the organization are used only for funding laminitis research.
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. Donations are fully tax-deductible.
Since 1985, AHF has made certain that any individual who wants to make a difference in beating this terrible disease can see his or her money put directly to work to benefit all horses.
To add your support to AHF efforts, visit the AHF donation website page:
To add a horse and owner/sponsor name to the new memorial page, send an email after submitting your online donation or enclose a note with your check.

Thank you for helping the Animal Health Foundation free the horse of this terrible disease.