Insulin and Laminitis
Tuesdays with Tony
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.
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,
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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!