Best Hay For Laminitic Horses

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on choosing the best hay for laminitic horses. Laminitis is a painful and potentially debilitating condition that affects horses, making it crucial to provide them with the right type of hay to support their health and well-being. In this article, we will discuss the causes and identification of laminitis, as well as the best hay options for laminitic horses. We will delve into the benefits of hay varieties such as Timothy, Orchard Grass, Teff, Alfalfa, and Bermuda Grass, while also highlighting what to avoid in hay for these horses. We will explore feeding methods, including soaking hay, using slow feeder hay nets, and controlled grazing. By the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of how to make informed hay choices for laminitic horses, ensuring their nutritional needs are met while minimizing the risk of exacerbating their condition. Let’s get started.

What Is Laminitis?

Laminitis, also referred to as founder, is a painful and often debilitating condition affecting the feet of horses, characterized by inflammation in the soft tissues and a breakdown of the bond between the hoof wall and the distal phalanx (coffin bone).

This condition is commonly associated with metabolic disturbances and can result in severe lameness and compromised mobility.

Laminitis is a complex and multifactorial disease that can have a significant impact on equine health. Metabolic factors such as obesity, insulin resistance, and high carbohydrate intake are often implicated as key contributors to the development of laminitis. These factors can lead to a cascade of events, including disruption of blood flow to the sensitive laminae within the hoof, ultimately resulting in pain and structural changes.

What Causes Laminitis?

The causes of laminitis in horses are multifaceted and often linked to dietary factors, metabolic imbalances, and environmental triggers. High levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) in pasture grasses, especially during the morning hours or on sunny days, pose a significant risk for laminitis-prone breeds such as Arabians, Morgans, and Quarter Horses.

The high intake of grain-based concentrates, especially in overweight or obese horses, can lead to metabolic imbalances and insulin resistance, further predisposing them to laminitis. Excessive consumption of lush, rapidly growing spring grass, which is rich in sugars and starches, can contribute to the development of laminitis. Environmental triggers such as prolonged standing on hard surfaces or repeated concussion from strenuous exercise may also play a role in triggering laminitis episodes. Understanding and managing these various causes is crucial in preventing and mitigating the risk of laminitis in horses.

How To Identify If Your Horse Has Laminitis?

Identifying the presence of laminitis in horses requires a comprehensive assessment of clinical signs, including increased digital pulses, heightened sensitivity in the hooves, and a characteristic stance to alleviate pressure on the affected feet. Consultation with a veterinary professional, such as Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, DACVN, from Rutgers, State University, New Jersey, can provide valuable insights into diagnosing this painful syndrome.

Alongside the aforementioned physical indications, laminitis may also manifest as an altered gait, reluctance to move, and an increased heart rate. Specialized imaging techniques, such as radiography and hoof testers, can help confirm the presence of laminitis. Consulting resources from the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University can offer in-depth understanding of the latest research and diagnostic approaches. Veterinary experts emphasize the significance of early intervention and precise diagnosis to mitigate the impact of laminitis on equine welfare.

What Are The Best Hay Options For Laminitic Horses?

Selecting the appropriate hay for laminitic horses involves considering low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content and high fiber levels to support digestive health and metabolic balance. Timothy Hay, Orchard Grass Hay, Teff Hay, Alfalfa Hay, and Bermuda Grass Hay are among the recommended options for providing essential nutrients while minimizing the risk of exacerbating laminitis.

Timothy Hay is a popular choice due to its moderate NSC levels and abundant fiber, making it a suitable option for laminitic horses.

Orchard Grass Hay offers a balanced nutritional profile with its high fiber content and lower sugar content, supporting optimal digestion and metabolic function.

Teff Hay, known for its low NSC levels, provides essential nutrients while minimizing carbohydrate intake, facilitating metabolic stability.

Alfalfa Hay offers a protein-rich option with moderate NSC levels, contributing to overall health and well-being.

Bermuda Grass Hay, with its digestible fiber content and moderate NSC levels, is another favorable choice, supporting the nutritional needs of laminitic horses.

Timothy Hay

Timothy Hay, sourced from reputable sources such as Oregon hays, is a favored option for laminitic horses due to its low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content and high fiber composition, providing essential nutrients and promoting digestive wellness without significantly elevating metabolic risks.

This high-fiber forage is rich in essential nutrients, including protein, vitamins, and minerals, supporting overall equine health. The low NSC content of Timothy Hay, typically below 10%, helps in managing insulin resistance and reducing the risk of laminitis in horses prone to metabolic disorders. The long and coarse nature of Timothy Hay strands encourages natural grazing behavior, promoting dental health and minimizing the risk of colic.

Orchard Grass Hay

Orchard Grass Hay offers a balanced nutritional profile for laminitic horses, featuring moderate non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content and a rich fiber composition, making it a suitable choice to support metabolic equilibrium and digestive function.

With a low-risk NSC content, Orchard Grass Hay provides essential nutrients without overloading the metabolic system. Its high-fiber content aids in maintaining healthy gut motility and preventing digestive disturbances commonly associated with laminitic conditions. The balanced ratio of protein and energy in this hay contributes to steady weight management and overall well-being for horses affected by metabolic issues. The consistent quality and palatability of Orchard Grass Hay make it an excellent option for promoting natural foraging behavior and ensuring adequate nutrition for laminitic horses.

Teff Hay

Teff Hay, recognized for its low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content and compatibility with horses prone to metabolic issues such as Cushing’s or foundering, serves as a beneficial hay option to support the nutritional needs of laminitic horses while mitigating the risk of exacerbating existing metabolic challenges.

The high fiber content of Teff Hay makes it an excellent choice for laminitic horses, as it aids in promoting gut health and regulating insulin levels. This hay variety also offers a balanced array of essential nutrients including protein, calcium, and phosphorus, supporting overall metabolic function. Its palatability and digestibility reduce the likelihood of digestive disturbances, promoting consistent energy levels without spiking blood sugar. These attributes make Teff Hay a valuable resource for managing the unique nutritional needs of horses with metabolic conditions, facilitating improved health and well-being.

Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa Hay, when provided in controlled quantities, can offer essential protein and calcium, but its higher non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content requires careful management to avoid contributing to metabolic disturbances or excessive fat deposits, specifically relevant for laminitic-prone horses.

For laminitic horses, the nutritional benefits of Alfalfa Hay are significant but call for caution. Its high protein content is valuable for tissue repair and growth, and the calcium content supports bone health, which is essential for laminitic horses with compromised hooves and skeletal systems. The NSC level poses a potential risk, as it can trigger metabolic issues, such as insulin resistance and hindgut acidosis. These metabolic implications necessitate a balanced approach to feeding, emphasizing controlled portions and careful monitoring to prevent exacerbating laminitis or promoting weight gain.

Bermuda Grass Hay

Bermuda Grass Hay, with its low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content and supportive impact on connective tissues, represents a suitable hay choice for horses with glucose intolerance or susceptibility to metabolic disturbances, helping with maintaining metabolic balance and minimizing risks associated with laminitis.

The low NSC content in Bermuda Grass Hay makes it an ideal feed option for horses prone to laminitis, as it helps in regulating their blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of hyperinsulinemia, a common trigger for laminitis. Its rich nutritional profile aids in promoting healthy connective tissues, providing essential support for horses struggling with hoof sensitivity and related issues. This makes it a valuable choice for owners seeking to improve the well-being of their horses with metabolic concerns.

What Should Be Avoided In Hay For Laminitic Horses?

Hay options to be avoided for laminitic horses include those with high sugar content, elevated starch levels, moldy hay, and variants with high fructan levels, as these can exacerbate metabolic challenges and contribute to the onset or progression of laminitis, posing risks to equine health and well-being.

High sugar content in hay can lead to insulin spikes, potentially triggering laminitis in susceptible horses. Elevated starch levels, commonly found in legume hay, can also disrupt insulin regulation and worsen laminitic conditions. Moldy hay presents a hazardous risk due to mycotoxins, which can threaten liver function and further compromise the delicate metabolic balance. Hay with high fructan levels can induce digestive issues and potentially instigate laminitis through metabolic disturbances.

High Sugar Content

Hay with high sugar content, if consumed by laminitic horses, can significantly impact metabolic equilibrium and pose risks for laminitis-prone breeds due to the potential spike in glucose levels and associated metabolic disturbances, necessitating vigilance in hay selection and feeding practices.

Laminitic horses are susceptible to metabolic instability, and hay with high sugar content exacerbates this vulnerability. For breeds prone to laminitis, such as ponies and draft horses, the implications are particularly significant. The sudden influx of glucose from high-sugar hay can trigger insulin resistance, leading to laminitis flare-ups. It’s imperative for horse owners to scrutinize hay quality and opt for low-sugar alternatives to prevent metabolic imbalances and support the health of laminitis-prone horses. Strategic feeding management plays a critical role in minimizing the risk of potentially debilitating conditions, making informed choices in hay selection a crucial aspect of equine care.

High Starch Content

Hay containing high starch levels poses a risk for laminitic horses, particularly those with insulin resistance, as it can disrupt metabolic function and contribute to the progression of laminitis, necessitating careful scrutiny of the starch content in hay selection and feeding regimens.

High starch content in hay can significantly impact the metabolic health of horses predisposed to laminitis. For insulin-resistant horses, the consequences can be even more severe, as high-starch hay exacerbates insulin resistance, potentially leading to further complications. Therefore, it becomes imperative for horse owners to meticulously monitor and control the starch intake in the diet of such horses. Implementing low-starch alternatives and precise feeding schedules becomes essential to prevent metabolic imbalances and reduce the risk of laminitis development.

Moldy Hay

Moldy hay presents a significant risk to the health of laminitic horses, potentially triggering inflammatory responses and metabolic disturbances, underscoring the importance of hay quality assessment and potential testing through reputable institutions such as Equi-Analytical Laboratories to avoid compromised equine well-being.

Laminitis, a common and severe condition in horses, can be exacerbated by moldy hay consumption, leading to lameness and pain. The mycotoxins produced by mold can disrupt gut health, impair nutrient absorption, and compromise the horse’s immune system. Equine owners must prioritize hay sourcing from trusted suppliers and perform thorough inspections for mold. Equi-Analytical Laboratories offers comprehensive testing services to evaluate hay quality, ensuring the safety and well-being of horses susceptible to laminitis.

Hay With High Fructan Levels

Hay variants with high fructan levels can pose metabolic challenges for laminitic horses, especially when considering pasture access, as excessive fructan intake can disrupt digestive stability and contribute to the onset or exacerbation of laminitis, necessitating caution in hay selection and pasture management practices.

High fructan levels in hay can significantly impact the metabolic equilibrium of laminitic horses. When ingested, excessive fructan can trigger insulin spikes, leading to an imbalance that can further compromise the horse’s health. This underscores the critical importance of meticulous pasture management practices, where grazing is monitored, and access is controlled to mitigate the risk of fructan overload.

Horse owners and caretakers must prioritize selecting hay variants with lower fructan levels, ensuring that the equine diet supports their well-being and minimizes the potential for laminitis development.

How To Feed Hay To Laminitic Horses?

How To Feed Hay To Laminitic Horses? - Best Hay For Laminitic Horses

Credits: Horselife.Org – Kenneth Sanchez

Feeding hay to laminitic horses involves careful considerations such as controlled grazing, utilization of slow feeder hay nets, and the potential for supplementation with low NSC grain options, aiming to support digestive health while minimizing the risk of metabolic disturbances and laminitis exacerbation.

Controlled grazing plays a crucial role in managing the diet of laminitic horses as it allows for regulation of the amount and quality of forage they can consume. Implementing a rotational grazing system and utilizing grazing muzzles can help control their intake of grass, thereby reducing the risk of overconsumption of high-sugar grasses.

Using slow feeder hay nets is another effective feeding practice for laminitic horses. These nets slow down the rate of forage consumption, which not only encourages natural feeding behavior but also aids in preventing rapid starch and sugar intake, thus contributing to better metabolic control.

Limited intake of low NSC (non-structural carbohydrate) grain options can be considered for horses that require additional caloric support. Options such as soaked beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, and rice bran, which are low in starch and sugar, can provide essential nutrients without significantly impacting insulin levels.

Soaking Hay

Soaking hay can be a viable method for reducing non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content, making it a suitable practice for laminitic horses, particularly for those with insulin resistance, to minimize the risk of metabolic perturbations and support overall digestive well-being.

By soaking the hay, the water-soluble carbohydrates are leached out, ultimately decreasing the sugar and starch content. This process is especially beneficial for horses prone to laminitis, as the lower NSC content can help in managing their condition and reducing the likelihood of laminitis flare-ups. For insulin-resistant horses, the reduced NSC levels in soaked hay help in maintaining their blood glucose levels, hence, contributing to better metabolic health. The increased moisture from soaking aids in optimal digestive function and can be advantageous for horses with compromised gut health, contributing to their overall well-being.

Slow Feeder Hay Nets

Employing slow feeder hay nets can aid in regulating grazing time and supporting controlled hay consumption for laminitic horses, ensuring a balanced nutritional intake while minimizing the risk of excessive non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) intake and associated metabolic challenges.

By using slow feeder hay nets, horse owners can effectively manage the grazing duration, preventing laminitic horses from overeating and encountering metabolic issues. The nets promote a natural, slower feeding pace, simulating the horse’s grazing habits in the wild while decreasing the chances of sudden sugar rushes from rapid hay consumption. This controlled approach to feeding aligns with the dietary needs of laminitic horses, ultimately contributing to their metabolic stability and overall well-being.

These nets encourage prolonged feeding periods, which assists in alleviating boredom and stress, promoting a healthier environment for the equines. The slow, gradual hay consumption facilitated by these nets provides essential roughage, supporting gut health and reducing the risk of digestive complications.”

Controlled Grazing

Implementing controlled grazing practices is crucial for managing hay intake and minimizing the risk of excessive non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) consumption, especially for laminitis-prone breeds such as Arabians, Morgans, and Quarter Horses, promoting metabolic equilibrium and mitigating the potential for laminitis development.

Controlled grazing plays a significant role in regulating hay intake for laminitic horses by allowing them access to pasture in a managed manner, thereby controlling the amount of forage consumed. This is particularly important for laminitis-prone breeds, as they have a higher susceptibility to metabolic disturbances related to carbohydrate metabolism. By carefully managing their access to grazing, horse owners can help maintain metabolic stability and reduce the risk of laminitis flare-ups, ultimately contributing to the overall well-being of the animals.


The appropriate selection and feeding of hay play pivotal roles in safeguarding the health and well-being of horses, particularly those susceptible to laminitis. By prioritizing low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) options and implementing controlled feeding practices, the risks of chronic laminitis and associated metabolic issues can be effectively mitigated.

When selecting hay for horses, caregivers should consider factors such as the type of grasses, legumes, and nutritional content. Along with the NSC levels, hay should also be evaluated for its fiber quality, protein content, and mineral composition. Understanding the specific dietary requirements and health conditions of individual horses is crucial in determining the most suitable hay options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best hay for laminitic horses?

The best hay for laminitic horses is low in sugar and starch and high in fiber. This includes timothy, orchard, and meadow grass hay.

Why is low sugar and starch important for laminitic horses?

Laminitic horses are sensitive to sugar and starch, as they can lead to inflammation and exacerbate laminitis symptoms. Low sugar and starch hay helps keep their diet balanced and reduces the risk of flare-ups.

Can alfalfa hay be fed to laminitic horses?

Alfalfa hay is typically high in sugar and protein, making it unsuitable for laminitic horses. However, some hay farmers offer low sugar and protein varieties of alfalfa hay which may be suitable in moderation.

How can I tell if my hay is low in sugar and starch?

Ask your hay supplier for a hay analysis report, which will show the levels of sugar, starch, and other nutrients in the hay. You can also visually inspect the hay for signs of maturity, as more mature hay tends to be lower in sugar and starch.

Can soaking hay reduce sugar and starch levels?

Yes, soaking hay for at least 30 minutes in cold water can reduce sugar and starch levels. However, this method may also reduce nutrient levels, so it is important to balance with other sources of nutrients in the horse’s diet.

Are there any other factors to consider when choosing hay for laminitic horses?

Aside from sugar and starch levels, it is also important to consider the quality and consistency of the hay. Hay should be free of mold or dust, and each bale should have a similar nutrient profile. It is also recommended to feed hay in small, frequent meals to prevent overeating.

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