Laminitis and Hindgut Health

In the first of our Pure Paddock blogs, we focus on the link between hindgut health and laminitis. Lisa Elliott, MSc, Equine Nutrition Solutions, explains what constitutes a healthy hindgut, the effect of hindgut health on laminitis and how you can help reduce the risk and support optimum hindgut health through the right nutrition.

As a general overview, Laminitis is an extremely painful condition of the equine hoof, which in its simplest sense is inflammation of the lamellae of the inner hoof wall. But laminitis isn’t a condition of the hoof as such, it’s more the result of a previous physiological event that is just expressed in the feet. The specific pathways that result in laminitis are complex, but laminitis is normally either sepsis-related – SRL (starch or fructan overload) or endocrinopathic (insulin dysregulation/obesity/PPID). SRL is closely related to the health of the hindgut so ensuring your horse’s hindgut is a healthy as it can be is essential:

What constitutes a healthy hindgut?

Your horse’s hindgut is home to billions of microbes, known collectively as the hindgut microbiome, who break down fibre through a process called fermentation and convert it into a usable energy source as Volatile fatty Acids (VFA). These microbes include bacteria, who are predominately responsible for fibre fermentation, but also Protozoa, Archaea, and fungi, all of whom live in a delicately balanced hindgut ‘community’ within an optimal pH of 6.5-7.

VFA which are released from the breakdown of fibre, particularly butyrate, stimulate cell growth and division in the gut membranes helping to strengthen hindgut integrity. Butyrate is also anti-inflammatory to further support a healthy hindgut lining. Research has also shown that gut microbes help strengthen and stimulate the immune system helping to mitigate illness and disease.

A healthy microbiome is fundamental to a healthy, well-functioning hindgut and that, in turn, is fundamental for overall equine health and happiness.

Hindgut Health and Laminitis

Whilst a healthy, well-balanced hindgut microbe population has huge benefits for your horse, any disturbance to the microbial equilibrium can have the opposite effect and be potentially harmful. Certain situations or sudden dietary changes can result in microbial imbalances or ‘dysbiosis’ which can invariably lead to hindgut acidosis.

Sepsis-related laminitis (SRL) is the type of laminitis that can result from a horse or pony consuming excessive levels of starch in cereals (the classic case of a pony breaking into the feed room!) or fructans in grasses, both of which are storage forms of sugar. Whilst horses and ponies generally wouldn’t consume enough fructan to cause problems within a typical day, research has shown that some horses and ponies can consume up to 5% of their body weight in grass dry matter (DM) per day. If that grass was higher in fructans, then a horse or pony consuming 5% of their body weight could easily eat enough to pose a risk for potentially developing laminitis.

Horses are unable to digest fructans with enzymes in their small intestine and have limited ability to digest starch. Excess starch and fructans can then pass into the hindgut for fermentation by hindgut microbes. If the levels of starch or fructan are high, their rapid fermentation promotes the growth of certain types of lactic acid-producing bacteria, resulting in dysbiosis, a significant drop in the hindgut pH, and a state of acidosis. Hindgut acidosis will cause the death of certain microbes who release toxins when they die, along with inflammation and decreased permeability of the gut wall, allowing the passage of endotoxins and other harmful compounds into the bloodstream. The result of this is inflammation within the body and general signs of illness like diarrhoea, which eventually ends with laminitis.

Feeding for Optimal Hindgut Health

To optimise your horses’ hindgut health and combat SRL you need to nurture the right microbes through the right diet and feed management.

The key to the happiest and healthiest hindgut microbes is feeding plenty of ad-lib, good-quality forage which promotes microbial equilibrium and stability and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Biodiversity within your horse’s diet is also vital for a healthy, balanced hindgut microbiome. Recent research has indicated that the equine hindgut microbiome contains a diverse range of bacterial species. This diversity is associated with a healthy microbiome, with a loss in diversity being linked to digestive disease and upset. A diverse diet promotes a diverse microbiome, which in turn promotes a healthy hindgut and a potentially reduced chance of an upset and resulting laminitis.

Grazing your horse on species-rich, biodiverse grassland and meadowland containing a variety of grasses, plant species, herbs and wildflowers can provide this forage biodiversity Additionally, traditional wild grasses found in species-rich grassland are lower in sugar and calories than ryegrass based grazing, reducing the potential for both endocrinopathic and sepsis-related laminitis.

However, in the absence of species-rich grazing, you can add this key diversity to your horse’s diet through a mixed herb supplement like Pure Paddock Essential Mix. This hindgut friendly, herbal blend not only promotes diversity within the hindgut microbiome but the herbs within also provide feed to stimulate butyrate-producing bacteria, and further support optimum hindgut health and integrity.

If your horse or pony is prone to overindulging on fresh grass, then the best approach is to turn them out overnight to early morning, bringing them in during the day when sugars are at their highest. Horses and ponies should never be starved whilst off grass but fed an alternative form of forage, like hay, to keep their digestive system functioning well. Pure Paddock Essential Mix can be extremely beneficial in these circumstances to supply much-needed diversity for enhanced hindgut health and help reduce the risk of laminitis.

Beneficial microbes which are critical to a healthy, balanced hindgut microbiome can also be lost during the events leading to a bout of laminitis. Providing biodiversity with Pure Paddock Essential Mix following a laminitis episode will help re-build and support a healthy microbial population for optimum hindgut health and recovery.

What can you do next?

Click below to order your sample of The Essential Mix and start improving your horses’ hindgut health today!

Still have questions?

Get in touch with us on either Facebook, Instagram or via our website and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have!

6 thoughts on “Laminitis and Hindgut Health”

  1. Hi my horse is going through an active flare up of lami hes got EMS and id like to find him something that covers all bases.. any recommendations?

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