Spring grass in relation to laminitis and colic.

Spring turnout laminitis and colic risks

The majority of laminitic horses start when the horses are turned out to grass in the spring. The weather becomes warmer and horses are allowed out 24/7. Although this seems like the kindest thing for a horse it can cause laminitis or colic leaving you with a very lame or ill horse.

The horse is usually in the stable for the majority of the winter then suddenly turned out onto the spring grass. This means that the horse’s digestive system is not acclimatised to the grass. Therefore the horse needs to be slowly introduced to the grass but some horses will not be able to handle being turned out for many hours especially if they are prone to colic or laminitis. The fructans in the grass are a type of sugar that occur from photosynthesis and is used to aid plant growth. The fructans are stored in a blade of grass and particularly like the cooler weather such as in the spring. Below are a few points to help keep your horse healthy:

  • Gradually increase the time the horse is turned out by about 15 minutes daily
  • Avoid the afternoons where the sun has been on the grass as the fructans are at the highest levels
  • Rotate the grazing as the fructans are higher on mature or overgrazed grass
  • Watch your horses weight otherwise they can suddenly balloon when turned out to pasture
  • If your horse is fat or prone to laminitis make sure they are in a small paddock or have a muzzle on
  • Feeding little and often is best for the horse as it keeps the hindgut moving therefore reducing the chance of colic
  • Keep your horse exercised as this burns off some calories and helps to keep weight down

What are the clinical signs for the start of laminitis?

Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive laminae of the foot. Overweight ponies and horses kept on grass are in the highest risk category. Usually it is the forefeet that show signs of laminitis but it can be the hind feet as well. The horse will react by rocking back on their feet to take the pressure off their toes. The feet will have heat in them and the pulses in the foot will be pounding.

What are the signs of colic?

Horses get colic through either just bad luck or because of change in diet or routine. Hence suddenly turning a horse out to grass can bring on signs. Symtoms will depend greatly on the severity and type of the colic; these may include some or all of the following:

• Changes in eating habits, including a loss of appetite
• Continuously getting down to roll and then getting back up again
• Pawing the ground
• Pacing the stable
• Limited or no passage of faeces
• Straining to excrete faeces
• Turning round and looking at their flanks
• Kicking at their abdomen
• Anxious and shivering
• Sweating
• Abnormal temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate
• Excessive urination

All cases of laminitis and colic should be treated as serious and the quicker the vet gets to the horse the more likely it will be a positive outcome.