Laminitis is typically associated with a fat pony that looks like a small barrel with four legs, however it’s not just a problem for our small friends. Laminitis can also result from any serious stress, shock or ailment that challenges the immune system. It can also be triggered by a sudden starch overload.
The immune system contains cytokines which are messengers that alert the body to a challenge. They can trigger a reaction in the foot causing separation of the lamellae from the pedal bone, causing some movement and the pain / lameness we know as laminitis.
For example a severe prolonged dermatitis can challenge the system or a long haul journey where a horse becomes highly distressed.
Starch overload can trigger laminitis as the starch causes ‘bad bacteria’ to thrive in the hindgut of the horse. These bad bacteria are acid producing, and cause the pH to drop, which leads to the death of the beneficial bacteria, toxin release and a leaky hindgut where such toxins can enter the bloodstream.
Starch overload can occur on a daily basis with the problem gradually building up or it can occur from a cheeky midnight raid on the feed room where the horse happily eats an entire bag of their usual muesli or cubes. Daily overload is more common as horses have a very small intestine where we expect all the starches to be digested. This small intestine can easily become overwhelmed. Starches are digested by enzymes and each horse has a relatively fixed amount. Keeping feeds small helps avoid an overload.