Laminitis is a crippling, painful and incurable disease. It is one of the major causes of death in horses and can affect all breeds. Laminitis occurs when the connective tissue between the horse’s foot and hoof begins to fall apart. Eventually the horse lies down and won’t get back up.
Queensland University (Australia) of Technology Equine physiologist, Martin Sillence and his team have identified the marker for laminitis, usually caused by a metabolic disorder. They have diagnosed early stages of the disease through specific blood tests. In humans with diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin. In horses with laminitis, the pancreas does the opposite and produces more insulin which can soon reach toxic levels.
Horses with early stage metabolic syndrome, when given intravenous sugar, showed a normal insulin response. When these horses eat the same amount of sugar, insulin levels rise dramatically.
Sensing glucose, hormones called incretins are released in the gut of some horses. Although not understood why these hormones are produced at such high levels, they act to greatly increase insulin production.
Sillence and his team developed a blood test that discovers higher insulin levels in their early stages. Once the horse is determined to be at risk, medication can be used to control and prevent insulin from spiking.
Maintaining proper weight, especially of those horses at risk, is very important.
Sillence’s work has met with good success when getting insulin levels down. This is a major step toward preventing laminitis and saving horses lives.