When you think of Laminitis you usually think of diet. Every feed company is talking about low levels of this and high levels of that and promising the answer. But what if BEFORE we think about the diet, we should be talking about stress?
Stress, especially in chronic cases directly impacts on the bodies immune system. But what does that really mean? Too much stress can lead to the overproduction of the steroid hormone Cortisol.
Cortisol is essential for the body’s equilibrium. It is made in the adrenal glands found on top of the kidneys. It is mainly in charge of the body’s anti-inflammatory system and works with insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. When insulin is overproduced for a long period of time (chronic being a long period) the body builds up a resistance and the insulin becomes less effective, meaning the body must produce more to have some effect. Eventually the production wears out and this is where we begin to see conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) developing.
Laminitis can be linked to artery narrowing and high glucose levels. When additional sugar intake is added on top of the over-production of insulin, this could easily be tipping the body over the edge of what it is able to cope with. This can usually be recognised in the lines or bumps across the hoof, often referred to as ‘event lines’ The bumps are essentially the result of inflammation.
Laminitis itself can be chronic but in the first instance it is usually treated as acute.However, the evidence strongly points to chronic stress occurring long before the signs Laminitis. Therefore, the recommendations such as diet and weight management are important, but if you horse is also stressed and over producing Cortisol, they are more likely to have a weight issue and higher risk of inflammation.
Understanding what causes stress in our horse’s is an important factor to reducing stress or the possibility of stress. Stress can come from many areas of management, so it’s helpful to learn more about your horse’s needs and adapt as much as possible to meet them. Such as movement, being pain free, feeling safe in a herd with playmates and the availability of appropriate forage.
What can also add to the build-up is stress from training. One of my key interests is the effect of stress on the brain and how it can both support and impair learning. I am beginning to give regular talks on the research I have gathered and share with you my thoughts as I connect the dots which I hope will support horse owners and trainers in their journey to understanding the beautiful and yet mystifying horse.
It’s worth noting also that chronic stress is not treatable overnight. Horses that have suffered from a chronic condition undergo physiological changes that can take time to change or reverse. Please bear in mind changes you make to improve the situation will not see immediate results.
The take home message from this post is to remove stress, monitor diet and weight as a combined approach and your horse’s health will have a more positive outlook.
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A couple of references (there are so many!)