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Laminitis, Insulin Resistance, Equine Metabolic Syndrome: Fast FactsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 1, 2016

Understanding insulin resistance, what role it plays in equine metabolic syndrome and the development of laminitis, and how these conditions impact the overall health of your horse can be confusing. To help owners and equine veterinarians alike better understand these conditions, a group of researchers reviewed the available literature, and summarized their findings.

  • Laminitis due to altered insulin regulation is common in domestic equine populations and is an important cause of morbidity and mortality;
  • The term “insulin dysregulation” is synonymous with insulin resistance, which is a term used to describe horses with either an abnormally elevated fasting level of insulin or an exaggerated insulin response after feeding nonstructural carbohydrates;
  • Insulin resistance and obesity are central components of equine metabolic syndrome, a condition frequently found in horses and ponies predisposed to laminitis;
  • Diet is believed to play an important role in the development of insulin resistance, probably because some horses overfed cereal-rich products, such as sweet feeds, became overweight also developed insulin dysregulation;
  • That said, feeding cereal-rich diets can induce insulin dysregulation even if a horse or pony does not become obese in sensitive individuals;
  • All overfed horses can develop a reduced sensitivity to insulin;
  • Horses and ponies fed only one carbohydrate-rich meal a day had better insulin responses than horses and ponies fed multiple meals that potentially overstimulate insulin receptors; and
  • Different breeds of horses with variable innate insulin sensitivities may also play a role in the development of equine metabolic syndrome.

“The researchers concluded that diet certainly appears to play a role in insulin resistance, but further research is required to determine the relationship between obesity, diet, and insulin dysregulation,” Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER) summarized.

To determine if your horse’s diet contains the right balance of carbohydrates, contact a KER nutritionist today. In addition, ensure your horse maintains an appropriate body condition score to help minimize insulin dysregulation and laminitis.

*Bamford, N.J., S.J. Potter, C.L. Baskerville, et al. 2016. Effect of increased adiposity on insulin sensitivity and adipokine concentrations in different equine breeds adapted to cereal-rich or fat-rich meals. Veterinary Journal. 214:14-20.