Insulin and Laminitis

Insulin and Laminitis

Tuesdays with Tony

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic Today has been a good day so far. I wandered around outside, slept in a sunny spot, then moved to a shady spot when it got too warm, enjoyed the sound of birds chirping, and just generally enjoyed the weather! Meanwhile, I have seen pictures from adoring fans around country buried in snow. That’s a hard no from this cat! I have seen as many as 12 flakes of snow at one time, and that was plenty, thank you very much. I have no desire to see more of that cold, wet, white stuff. There’s one small problem with this time of year. All that warm sunshine makes the grass grow, and if you’re a horse with an insulin issue, that grass is going to get you in more trouble than I get in when catnip is involved.

 

Insulin: Can’t live without it, too much will kill you slowly

 

Let’s review insulin, and what it does. When you eat anything containing sugar, even small amounts, your pancreas releases insulin. This insulin attaches to cells to tell them, “Hey, there’s sugar here. Come absorb it!” The cells do just that, and either store that sugar for later, or use it right away to power their little cell manufacturing facilities. All this works great until there is way, way more sugar than the cells need, then the body switches to hardcore storage. And that’s where this week’s blog really gets interesting. A vicious circle, not unlike Teanie Cat chasing her tail, is set up with the body releasing insulin so the cells will soak up the sugar, the cells ignoring the insulin, so the body releases more, and the cells ignore the signal even more. This is how we get to what’s known as Insulin Resistance (IR).

 

All that Insulin floating around

 

It turns out insulin does way more than just tell the cells of the body to suck up the sugar in the bloodstream. It also gets the growth machinery, mostly a thing called IGF-1, geared up. You see, when there’s extra sugar around, it’s a good time to grow some stuff. Lay down some bone, grow some skin, you know, spruce the body up a bit. Our bodies, cat, human, horse, all of them, aren’t designed for this system to be switched on for long periods of time. We all evolved to handle long periods of, gasp, scarcity of food. The system would experience excess sugar, lay down a lot of fat for the future lean times, fix some stuff that needed fixing, and then use all that fat when food got hard to get. Enter the modern age. We never get to that food is hard to come by period of the year. I will argue this point since I can’t get food whenever I want, and I’m often sure I’m starving, but I will say I get two to three solid meals a day, so there’s that. The growth machinery never, ever shuts down. The insulin just keeps getting pumped out. The cells say no more, even louder. The growth machinery keeps trying to grow stuff. And this is how we get to laminitis.

 

The L word

 

I have learned that no one in the horse world likes the word laminitis. For a long time, no one quite understood how or why fat horses got laminitis. For a while it was thought the thyroid gland wasn’t working quite right since other species with bad thyroid glands get fat, and have issues similar to laminitis. The problem was horses with low thyroid levels got skinny, not fat. Back to the drawing board. That drawing board was especially confusing because these fat horses improved on thyroid medications. Eventually the wise humans of the world got a better understanding of what was going on. This would have been figured out long ago if anyone had allowed cats to be involved. We know everything.

 

It turns out that growth machinery, and the cells ignoring insulin are both to blame for laminitis. The laminae are finger-like projections that come off the hoof capsule side of things, and the bone side of things. They hold each other tight to keep the hoof attached to the leg. In the picture below you can see that normally these are short, rounded fingers with long projections on their sides. On the abnormal side you see they turn long and skinny with short, squat projection along the sides. You can imagine those abnormal lamellae don’t hold on very well.

 

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

 

How to make Insulin go down in three easy steps

 

The good news is insulin can go down, but it ain’t easy! Ask this fat cat how he knows…. No, don’t. I get a little testy when talking about my diet and exercise routine.

 

Step 1. Increase exercise. Even a little bit. Make sure your horse is exercising more each week than they were the week before. This can be as simple as walking for 10-15 minutes 3-4 times per week to start. Now if you already have laminitis going on, be sure you get one of my Docs to help you with an exercise plan.

 

Step 2. Decrease calories. Ration balancers, grazing muzzles, and slow feed hay bags are all excellent decrease-food-going-in options. The problem seems to be with you humans applying them. Got questions about the best way to do it? Ask my Docs!

 

Step 3. Medications to help. Sometimes even with diet and exercise, we need a little help to get things going the right direction. There are some great short term drug and supplement options to help get the diet and exercise going. Guess what? Ask my Docs for help!

 

It’s a tough time of year to be an easy keeper! Keep on top of your horse’s diet and exercise program, and know my minions are here to help!

 

Until next week,

 

~Tony

P.S. Make sure you scroll down and subscribe if you haven’t already. Don’t rely on Facebook to deliver my blog to you. They’re terribly unreliable about things like that, and my blog is far too important to risk missing!

 

Also, have you made it to one of my seminars lately? They are a fantastic resource for all you horse people out there. Free food, free information, and free selfies with Your’s Truly. You can’t beat it! You can see the list of upcoming seminars on the front page of my website at SpringhillEquine.com .

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Sugar, Starch, and Horse Diets

Sugar, Starch, and Horse Diets

Tuesdays with Tony

Two weeks ago we talked about grass and laminitis. Boy, were you guys excited about that topic. I’m going to be super-generous (we cats can be generous, you know) and give you more information on sugar. Come with me on a journey through the weird, wacky world of sugar and starch.

Sugar is sugar, isn’t it?

Nope. There’s sugar and there’s starch. These two things combined are the important number for your horse’s diet. That number is called NSC, or Non-Structural Carbohydrates, by feed companies. NSCs are things that don’t need to be broken down by fermentation in the hind gut, and are rapidly absorbed by the small intestine. Know how you get a kid to run around like a maniac by giving them a lollipop? That’s NSC. In general, you horse people are not looking for your horses to run around like maniacs.

The other problem with NSCs is they turn into fat deposits really quickly. Same thing happens in humans and cats. The body says, oh hey, I have excess food right now, I should store that away in case something bad happens and I need food later. In horses (and humans and cats) some individuals and breeds are better at storing than others. In general, the working breeds (like ponies) and the desert breeds (like Arabians) are really, really good at storage. If you apply some thinking to this, it will make a whole lot of sense. Deserts are not noted for a large amount of food laying around. Working breeds shared food with their owners. The more food either of these types needed, the less desirable they were. As a result, they have been bred for many, many, many generations to be “easy keepers.” On the other hand, think about Thoroughbreds. Historically, no one has cared how much their Thoroughbred ate. They were sports cars. And no one buys a Lamborghini for the gas mileage.

Sugar is bad, then?

It depends. It’s the ultimate answer, really. Appropriate in every circumstance.

NSC’s over 18-20% are less than ideal for the insulin-resistant horse. However, if that insulin-resistant horse is performing, they will need some sugar to perform at their best. You see, sugar is the best readily available energy source. Ever known a crazy human who runs marathons? That carb-loading they do the night before is to make sure they have plenty of quick energy on hand the next morning when they need it. Now, I’m not saying go carb-load your horses, but getting sugar levels too low in a horse who needs to do some serious work can cause them to fizzle when you need them to sizzle. Jumping, bursts of speed, quick starts and stops, all of these require carbs. This means a carefully controlled diet may be needed to get the best performance out of your horse. I will once again mention: Call my minions for help with this. Diet balancing is hard!

What the heck am I supposed to feed then?!?

A lot of factors go into the right choice of feeds for these horses. In general, look for a feed that is pretty low NSC. Triple Crown Senior and ration balancers like Nutrena Topline Balance are good places to start. Forages can be tricky. Alfalfa and peanut are lower in sugar, but lots higher in calories. My minions often work hardest to help you humans come up with a good forage plan for these horses. Luckily they have loads of experience. For extra calories, if they are needed, add fats like vegetable oils. I know, seems weird, but fat doesn’t cause insulin to be released so it’s very, very safe for these horses.

Weather obsession

During the craziness that is Florida Spring and Fall, be very aware of the weather. As I type this, it’s 39 degrees. Last week it was 89 degrees. That beautiful green grass that was high in sugar last week is SUPER high in sugar this morning. This little cold snap has all the grass freaking out. To be sure the plant saves all it’s hard earned sugar, it’s sending it down to the roots. When your horse grabs that grass down close to the ground, he’s getting a delicious bite of grass-flavored lollipop. The schizophrenic weather makes grazing muzzles an absolute must this time of year.

What’s a human to do?

Luckily, we have options! Start by controlling what you can control. Hay analysis will let you know how much sugar is in your hay. Check with your feed manufacturer to find out what the sugar levels are in your horse’s grain. Now you know where you stand on the things you give your horse. By keeping these sugar levels in check, you can allow your horse to graze as much as possible. Diet analysis is not easy. There’s lots of acronyms like EDF and NDF, and starch, and sugar, and fructans, and, on and on. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do any of this alone. I’ve got a minion to help! Call, text, or, live chat from our website and they’ll get you the answers you seek.

Once again, I’m going to tell you to be a good human. Scroll down a wee tiny bit further and click subscribe, right under those two horses in the purple box. Then you’ll see my blog every week no matter where Facebook decides to put it in your news feed. If you’ve already subscribed, then thank you! You get a treat next time you come see me, which should be Thursday at our Parasites and Deworming Seminar.

Until next week ~

Tony

sugar and starch

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Office Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Dr. Lacher’s Trip To Purina

Dr. Lacher’s Trip To Purina

Tuesdays with Tony

I eat Purina cat food. Dr. Lacher told me she was going to the Purina research facility, so naturally I felt I should get some food out of the deal. Turns out Purina horse and Purina cat aren’t the same thing, so I didn’t get anything out of this deal. However, Dr. Lacher said she learned a ton, so read on to hear about her trip to St. Louis. Here’s what she said about it:

The first thing I’m going to say about this trip is that Purina was all about the science. While they flew us to St. Louis, put us up in an amazing hotel (check out the St. Louis Grand Central Station Hotel), and fed us very well, the information presented wasn’t about Purina. Instead, it was about the science behind fueling and caring for horses. They also talked about how they use that science to make better feeds, and how they make sure the research they do gets published so horses everywhere can benefit.

Horse vet FloridaWe started off the evening by meeting these guys: Rascal and McGee. I have been around the Anheuser Busch Clydesdales before but I find their size awe-inspiring every time. I also find their tolerance for the crazy stuff they are asked to do pretty impressive. Rascal and McGee spent two hours standing in a hotel lobby (on a red carpet with padding underneath) being incredibly bored while 250-300 veterinarians and technicians oohh’d and aaahh’d over them, took selfies, marveled at their feathers, their extreme level of clean, and how they did their hair, and never once lost their cool. I can’t get Vespa to calmly stand on crossties in the barn at home reliably!

The next day I learned how hard it is to treat ulcers in horses. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have the chronic offenders. Those horses we treat for ulcers again and again and again. Now, thanks to an incredibly scrappy Australian, I understand why it’s so difficult to get some of these horses managed! Gastrogard is difficult to give correctly, and some horses produce lots of acid no matter how much Gastrogard you give them, and some horses get ulcers in the glandular part of the stomach and they need a whole different plan.

To get your money’s worth from Gastrogard (and it’s a lot of money):

  1. Keep your horse in a stall overnight
  2. Give no food after 10pm (although they can have a flake of hay at 10pm)
  3. Give Gastrogard in the morning BEFORE feeding
  4. Wait at least 1 ½ hours to feed
  5. Repeat for three weeks.

In the afternoon we all piled into buses and drove about an hour away to the Purina Research Farm. This is about 1200 acres of beautiful rolling fields dotted with cows, chickens, goats, sheep, horses, and even a research pond! Here Purina begins the process of making their feed better. They take an idea, turn it into a feed (or add it to an already available feed), and put it to the test on actual animals in real world situations! They can tell if horses are eating big bites or little bites of grain, how fast they are eating, do they eat hay and then grain, or grain and then hay, and even do they like this better than that down to 0.01 pounds. At this point I was thinking being a research horse for Purina is a pretty cushy job. Then we went to the treadmill barn.

The treadmill horses tell Purina if their feed improves performance in an actual test of performance. These studies are over a prolonged period, sometimes as long as 8-12 months. During that time the horse’s fitness is tested by a myriad of machines. They look at heart rate, return-to-resting heart rate, what they breathe out vs. what they breathe in, and if it’s a marker of how a horse’s metabolism is working, they measure it. This takes the guesswork out of knowing if a tweak to a diet makes a real difference. Science tells them yes or no. Here’s the cool thing: if the answer is no, no matter how badly they want it to be yes, Purina doesn’t make the change.

The final stop on the Purina Farm tour was what they call the Microbiome Barn. Everyone agrees the microscopic critters on and in a body (horse or human) are important in ways we never dreamed. However, no one is really sure what bacteria, fungus, and protozoa are involved, how to influence these critters, if we even can influence them, and do good or bad (or nothing) things happen when we do try to influence them. Purina has a group of horses dedicated to this research. They are in the very early phases, but it’s pretty exciting stuff!!

Sunday was another day of science!! I am often frustrated by the horse who seems to have weird GI stuff going on: diarrhea for months or years, weight loss in the senior horse, and the repeat offender colic horse. We talked about diagnosing and treating these horses. Then we talked about how different components of the diet can impact these horses. Sure, there were suggestions on which Purina diets had these ingredients, but the overriding message was about ingredients, not diets in particular. Needless to say, I learned a lot this weekend!!

There you have it. I’m glad Dr. Lacher learned a lot and enjoyed herself, but next time I want food! That’s reasonable, right?

Until next week,

Tony

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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