Laminitis is a condition that many horse owners will be aware of and will try to avoid throughout their horse’s lifetime. There are a few steps you can take to manage laminitis, with a balanced diet being one of the most crucial aspects. Below, we’ll take a closer look at how alfalfa plays a role in weight management and the benefits it can bring to an equine diet.
Laminitis and Obesity
Before considering the benefits of feeding alfalfa when it comes to managing weight, it helps to know more about the link between laminitis and a horse being overweight or obese. Laminitis can occur when repeated concussion or an excessive load is placed on the laminae within the hooves which results in inflammation and ultimately they will fail. If a horse is overweight it can increase the risk of this happening but chronic obesity also increases a horse’s risk of laminitis in another way too. Studies have shown that the hormonal changes resulting form obesity increase the risk of a horse developing laminitis. Insulin Dysregulation (ID) is the term that describes an exaggerated insulinaemic response when a horse eats, particularly meals of more concentrated feeds. It is therefore really important to try to keep your horse at a healthy weight through appropriate dietary management and exercise.
The Role of Alfalfa
So, what role does alfalfa have to play in managing laminitis? With forage, hay, and pasture forming a substantial portion of your horse’s diet, considering the type and quality of the forage you’re feeding is essential when it comes to avoiding laminitis. Alfalfa is both palatable and digestible making it a good option for most horses. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of alfalfa when managing weight.
Alfalfa contains a range of nutrients that horses need to thrive and can be added into the diet as a way of increasing protein intake if needed – which is vital for various functions around the body, including the immune system, and hormones, and helping to rebuild muscles and tissues. It’s also a source of digestible fibre, which supports hindgut health, and promotes microbial fermentation.
Low Sugar Content
Alfalfa is lower in sugar than many other types of forage. Adding it to your horse’s diet means that you can reduce the risk of insulin spikes that come with elevated blood sugar levels, which are also linked to laminitis development. Whilst alfalfa is low in sugar, it can be used to feed horses that need additional energy – for example, performance horses – in a natural way, without the need for cereal-based feeds. Alfalfa is a source of slow-release, highly digestible energy that can be added to an equine diet to support work or weight maintenance, without having to worry about imbalances in the gut, or behavioural issues.
Whilst feeding alfalfa is one way of managing laminitis, it should go hand in hand with other considerations, like exercise. Aswell as utilising energy, exercise has been shown to improve sensitivity to insulin so helping to avoid ID. Obviously a horse with laminitis shouldn’t be exercised until properly recovered.
When managing weight and making changes to your horse’s diet, like introducing alfalfa, it’s essential to do this slowly and methodically. Once you’ve implemented the change steadily as a way of maintaining gut health, you’ll then need to monitor your horse’s weight closely. Score your horse and keep an eye on their condition to ensure you’re feeding the correct amount of alfalfa, and so you can determine whether you need to make adjustments to exercise or diet.