Horses and ponies that gain weight are more than twice as likely to develop laminitis than if they lose or maintain their weight, according to new research published last month in BMC Veterinary Research1.

Carried out by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and Rossdales Equine Hospital, the study also revealed that the groups particularly at risk were native pony breeds and their crosses, as well as horses and ponies with a history of laminitis and those with lameness or soreness after routine hoof care.

This research, funded by World Horse Welfare, comes from the first ever online study that collected information on laminitis from a group of owners in real time.

The researchers say that the study is also the second largest to identify weight gain as a risk factor for laminitis. Data was collected from the owners of 1,070 horses and ponies in Great Britain, who reported their animal’s management, health and estimated weight via online questionnaires for 29 months. 

Owners were encouraged to use a custom weight tracking tool designed by the study/research team to help regularly track changes in their animal’s weight and body condition. The uptake of this tool was high, with over half of participating owners using it.

The tool is freely available at: www.aht.org.uk/research/lameness/laminitis.

Other study findings included:

  • A high risk of laminitis was present in horses shod or trimmed at intervals of more than 8 weeks, and in those that took a long time to return to soundness after a bout of laminitis. 

  • Diet, grazing management and health were factors closely associated with the development of laminitis and will be the subject of future investigation. 

  • Researchers also noted that weight gain often occurred unintentionally, even when owners were aiming for their animals to maintain or lose it. This reiterates the need to consistently record weight and body condition in order to prevent undesirable weight gain.

Dr. Dee Pollard of the AHT, one of the study’s chief authors, said: "This is one of the largest, and the first, online laminitis studies where we collected regular information from the same group of owners in real-time. We assessed the relationship between laminitis and many potential management and health factors and identified those more likely to be present before a laminitis episode was reported.

"We now have good evidence to develop laminitis prevention guidelines, and a number of different avenues to explore in the future. We cannot emphasise enough how important systematic and regular weight and body condition monitoring are. It’s very easy to miss weight gain when you are just relying on your eyes and you see your horse or pony every day. You need to get hands on, feel for the fat deposits and take measurements, remember the figures don’t lie!"

Reference

  1. BMC Veterinary Research: Pollard, D, Wylie, CE, Verheyen, KLP and Newton, JR (2019) Identification of modifiable factors associated with owner-reported equine laminitis in Britain using a web-based cohort study approach. BMC Veterinary Research 15:59. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-019-1798-8

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