Hay for the Laminitic Horse

Is there a particular type of grass hay that is better than others for maintenance diet for a laminitic horse?
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Q. Is there a particular type of grass hay that is better than others as a long-term part of the maintenance diet for a horse prone to laminitis?

Sue, via e-mail


A. If a horse has a history of chronic laminitis, my first concern would be addressing the metabolic issues contributing to the problem, usually obesity and/or pituitary dysfunction, both of which are treatable.

If the horse is truly insulin resistant/glucose intolerant there is no one "type" of hay guaranteed not to trigger a bout of laminitis. It depends more on the harvest conditions, not the species of grass, as to whether a batch of hay contains sufficient non-structural carbohydrates (NSC: starches, water soluble sugars and fructans) to cause a problem. Most horses tolerate more than 20% NSC without adverse effects, and most grass hays, especially those from the Eastern states, contain only 7-18% NSC, with an average of 12%. Even legume hays, on average, contain less than 15% NSC. Oat hay, on the other hand, averages 22% NSC. (Values are based on five years of data from Equi-Analytical Laboratories’ web site

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Written by:

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, is a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, specializing in equine nutrition. Her research has focused on the effects of diet on metabolism, behavior, and the development of orthopedic disease in young horses, and she has additional interests in nutritional modulation of stress, metabonomics (the study of metabolic responses to drugs, environmental changes, and diseases), and pasture management. Previous research highlights were the pioneering work she did in nutrition for geriatric horses and post-surgical colics while at Colorado State University in the 1980s and the discovery of the correlation of hyperinsulinemia with development of osteochondrosis in young Standardbreds.

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