Tuesdays with Tony
Teanie and I have been watching the Winter Olympics nightly. I have even been inspired to try my hand at luge down the hallway at the Clinic. It looks like napping because there’s no slope, but I’m hard at work practicing proper technique. In the morning when my trusty staff arrives, I go outside to enjoy Florida Winter. While enjoying the sun and 60’s the other morning I noticed something: green grass. Oh boy, I thought, here comes the fun. And by fun, I mean not fun (because I’m a cat), and by not fun I mean the laminitis cases that come with the first green grass. I really should have written this blog a month ago so you humans could be better prepared, but it’s hard to believe green grass is around the corner when there’s ice falling from the sky (that was a HORRIBLE day). Here we are though. Florida. Mid-February. Mid-80s. Green Grass.
Beautiful, horrible, green grass
Let’s start with how awesome it is to have grass in February. Grass means less hay to feed, and, a highlight for my Docs, fewer colics. However, baby grass is very high in sugar which is why it tastes delicious. We also are likely to experience at least a few more days of cold mornings which will make that baby grass concentrate it’s sugar even more. You know how baby vegetables taste better than the big versions? Grass is the same way.
You mean my horse can’t eat the grass?
That’s not quite what I mean. Certain horses need to be monitored very closely this time of year to be sure they can handle high-sugar grasses. Have you found it easy to put weight on your horse, but hard to take it off? Have you noticed bumps on either side of the base of the tail, or behind the shoulders? Those bumps are fat. That fat is the really bad kind of fat, too. This fat releases all sorts of hormones that tell the body to get mad at everything (the Docs get fancy and call this a pro-inflammatory state), and they tell the pancreas to make lots and lots of insulin while telling the cells to ignore the fact that glucose is around. This leads to what’s known as metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance. And that’s a bad syndrome to have.
Horses with metabolic syndrome don’t respond correctly to insulin. Normally, you eat some food, your brain says “Oh, that was sugar,” your pancreas says, “Release the insulin,” the insulin runs to the cells and tells them to grab the sugar. When this goes wrong, the cells stop listening to the insulin, the pancreas releases more insulin to try to make them listen, the sugar level goes up in the blood, and then some not-great stuff happens. The most common thing horse owners see go wrong is laminitis.
Why does sugar cause laminitis?
There are two main places in the horse that absolutely require sugar to work: the feet, and the brain. There are some long-term effects that are seen in the brain (mostly Cushings), but for this blog the most important immediate effect of high sugar is laminitis.
Laminitis happens because the cells that hold the hoof to the body need sugar to keep working. When the cells can’t absorb sugar because they’re busy ignoring insulin, they end up letting go of the hoof. In the worst cases, those cells even die. As those cells let go, the coffin bone rotates in the hoof capsule leading to what you guys call laminitis.
But my horse loves grass!
Never fear, my intrepid Docs are here! Through the wonders of diet, exercise, and, (when needed) medicines, your metabolic syndrome horse can eat grass, just not all the grass he wants. Here’s my simple plan for success:
- Start with a low-starch diet. Don’t know if you’re on one? Talk to Beth in the Clinic. She’s a whiz with feed!
- Exercise your horse for 10-15 minutes three times per week.
- Talk to my Docs about blood testing and X-rays. Not saying your horse needs this, but a conversation with my Docs is always packed full of information you can use!
I’m not just a pretty face when it comes to metabolic problems. Due to my extreme love of food, hatred of exercise, and bad genes, I’m diabetic. My staff has worked on my diet and exercise, and added in a little medicine, and I’m able to practice my luge technique daily! Oh, and monitor all horse trailers and delivery drivers who come to the Clinic, along with the house next door. If I can do it, you can too!!
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