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  • EMS and Laminitis: What You Need To Know

    April 04, 2024 3 min read

    EMS and Laminitis: What You Need To Know

    Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and laminitis are two conditions that can seriously affect the health and well-being of horses. Both conditions can have devastating effects if not managed properly, and interestingly, they are often interrelated, with EMS being a risk factor for the development of laminitis. This blog aims to shed light on the symptoms of these conditions while emphasizing that not all horses will exhibit visible signs or fit a specific profile to be afflicted with EMS or laminitis.

    Understanding EMS

    Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a condition characterised by a set of metabolic and endocrine abnormalities. These include insulin resistance, obesity (particularly noticeable as abnormal fat deposits in areas like the neck, back, and abdomen), and a predisposition to laminitis. However, it's crucial to understand that not all horses with EMS are obese, and not all obese horses have EMS. Some horses may present a normal outward appearance but still suffer from insulin dysregulation, a core component of EMS.

    Symptoms of EMS

    - Abnormal Fat Deposits: Patches of fat that are hard to the touch on the neck (cresty neck), behind the shoulder, or on the tailhead.

    - Insulin Resistance: Signs include excessive drinking and urination.

    - History of Laminitis: Often, a horse with EMS will have had episodes of laminitis, which may not have been linked to an obvious cause at the time.

    Recognising Laminitis

    Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae, the tissues that attach the hoof wall to the underlying coffin bone. It is a painful condition and, if left untreated, can lead to the rotation or sinking of the coffin bone, causing permanent lameness or even necessitating euthanasia. While laminitis is commonly associated with obesity and insulin resistance (as seen in EMS), it can also be triggered by other factors such as severe colic, certain types of infection, or excessive weight-bearing on one leg due to an injury on the opposite leg.

    Symptoms of Laminitis

    - Lameness: Especially noticeable when the horse is turning or walking on hard surfaces.

    - Heat in the Hooves: The affected hooves may feel noticeably warmer than the others.

    - Increased Digital Pulse: An increased pulse can be felt at the fetlock, indicating inflammation.

    - Hoof Testing: The horse may react painfully when pressure is applied to the soles of its feet, particularly near the toe area.

    - Changes in Stance: The horse may adopt a "sawhorse" stance, leaning back to relieve pressure on the front feet, or frequently shifting weight if the hind feet are affected.

    The Silent Sufferers

    A significant challenge in managing EMS and laminitis is that some horses may not show overt signs of these conditions until they are in advanced stages. For example, a horse with EMS might not be visibly obese or might not show any discomfort that suggests insulin dysregulation. Similarly, early stages of laminitis might not manifest through clear lameness or hoof warmth, making early diagnosis difficult.

    Further, to determine if a horse is susceptible to EMS or laminitis, measurements of a horse’s body condition and neck crest thickness are routinely used. However, a recent study has shown that this may be inaccurate, as no association between body weight and cresty neck measurements were found with insulin concentrations. This means that a pony can have a cresrty neck and be obeses but still have normal hormone levels. 

    Hence, if it suspected that a horse has EMS or has shown symptoms of laminitis, it is always best to consult a veterinarian to conduct a blood analysis, and confirm insulin levels. 

    Importance of Vigilance and Management

    Given the potential for horses to suffer silently from these conditions, vigilance is key. Regular veterinary check-ups, careful observation of your horse's behavior and physical condition, and management of diet and exercise can all play critical roles in preventing and managing EMS and laminitis. For horses diagnosed with EMS, dietary modifications to reduce sugar and starch intake, along with an appropriate exercise program, can help manage insulin levels and reduce the risk of laminitis.

    Laminitis requires immediate veterinary attention. Treatment may include anti-inflammatory medications, special shoeing to support the hoof structure, and strict stall rest, among other interventions.

    If you have a horse or pony that requires a low sugar and starch diet, the following products are our best sellers and are available from Oakford Stockfeeds online or in-store.

    • Rhodes Hay
    • Teff Hay
    • Lucerne Hay and Chaff
    • Hygain Ice
    • Hygain Micrbeet
    • Hygain Metasafe
    • Prydes EasiKeeper
    • Speedibeet
    • T&R Lupin Fibre Cubes

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