*Note: If you are currently working with a horse that has acute or chronic laminitis, don’t give up! Read the entire article to understand the point we are making.
If you find today’s FACT provocative, it is meant to be. Lately, we’ve noticed sloppy reporting on the part of the lay press when it comes to laminitis research. For example, this recent headline: “A CURE for the second-biggest killer of horses.” The headline implies that researchers have discovered a cure for laminitis. However, the article goes on to describe a blood test for insulin (nothing new here) and that exercise and controlling sugar and starch in the diet improves insulin sensitivity (nothing new here, either). Diagnosis, Diet, Trim and Exercise (DDT/E) is the philosophy of the ECIR Group and has been since the 1990’s.
Why do we care about the use of words like “cure” and “disease?” We care because, if you’ve ever owned a horse that developed laminitis, you know how devastating it is. You are desperate for any ray of hope and, in your searching, you see the word, “CURE.” If that word is associated with a product or a therapy, you may do anything to get it. You may even hero-worship those that promise a cure.
Let’s stop for a moment at look at the facts. Laminitis is not a disease, it is a symptom. You can’t vaccinate your horse for it. Laminitis is always, ALWAYS, the end result, the sequela, a by-product (call it what you will) of some other process, usually a body-wide, systemic event like infection, fever, elevated insulin, Lyme disease, retained placenta, or gut upset from starch overload. It can also occur from concussive forces, exposure to black walnut shavings, overload to one leg due to injury, and use of corticosteroids. The list is long and each cause has a different mechanism. Some can be shared. For example, using corticosteroids in a horse with PPID can trigger laminitis. There cannot be a singular cure because there is not a singular cause. Reducing the sugar and starch in the diet of a mare with a retained placenta is not going to address her laminitis, because the causal mechanism was not hyperinsulinemia.
Laminitis can be treated once it occurs but, more importantly, laminitis can be PREVENTED. Too often, the focus is only on the hoof, i.e., the laminitis, and on fixing what’s obviously broken. You can trim, shoe, boot and pad the foot many ways, but if you don’t address what caused the laminitis–or better yet, prevent it before it occurs (NO Laminitis!)–then you will always be longing for a cure.
With IR and PPID-associated IR, PREVENTION COMES IN THE FORM OF A CORRECT DIAGNOSIS, DIET, EXERCISE, AND MEDICATION FOR PPID IF NEEDED. Know the sugar and starch content of what you are feeding, the forage quality and nutrient profile, mineral excesses and deficiencies, and exercise the horse if they are able. Above all, pat yourself on the back for doing a great job. If you want to worship a hero, then look in the mirror. You’re the one in the trenches. No magic potion or promises for a cure will ever match what YOU can do.