New research suggests we might soon be able to better identify horses at greater risk of developing pasture-associated laminitis not only by looking at breed type, body condition score, and high-risk environments but also by checking hormone and insulin levels.

Laminitis manifests in the foot and results in varying degrees of pain, lameness, and debilitation. There are several causes of laminitis which are currently divided into three main categories: sepsis/systemic inflammatory conditions; endocrine/metabolic disturbances, which includes pasture-associated laminitis; and mechanical overload (i.e., support-limb laminitis).

Being able to identify animals at increased risk of laminitis, as well as the potential risk factors, is key to reducing the incidence of the condition. Two studies on the topic were recently conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Equine Studies Group, based in Leicestershire, England.

The first study, carried out by Nanna Luthersson, DVM, and colleagues and published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, evaluated laminitis risk factors in a group of Danish horses and ponies. It confirmed that cold-blooded-type ponies less than 149 centimeters (58.7 inches, or 14.3 hands)—such as Shetlands, Welsh Ponies, Dartmoors, Fells, Icelandic horses, and Norwegian fjords—and those being kept on high-quality pasture experienced an increased risk of developing laminitis for the first time. The study also highlighted the important role that a change in grass intake—both type and amount—can p