The Case Against Lucerne for Laminitis!
Ange’s story is a compelling example of why not to feed Lucerne (alfalfa) to horses with laminitis. The rationale for thinking lucerne is ‘safe’ to feed to equines with laminitis is its lower ‘sugar and starch’ content.
This reasoning, in our experience, is seriously flawed because it ignores the other troublesome aspects of legumes like Lucerne and clover namely their high potassium and crude protein content. (Whilst on the subject, for this same reason it is best not to feed high protein items like soy-bean or rapeseed meals, fresh herbs or tree leaves (like willows/poplars). NOTHING GREEN is a good rule of thumb for horses with laminitis (or head-flicking see previous posts).
The industry as a whole tends to be ‘stuck’ on the ‘sugar and starch’ content of forage and feeds. Efforts to go ‘Low GI’ have resulted in feed items like Lucerne & soy-bean meal being used to replace higher sugar or higher GI items such as grains. ‘Sugars’ (WSC, ESC, NSC) are only PART of the problem. Results from analyses conducted by CHH on forage that caused laminitis are convincing that it needs to be low potassium & nitrogen (and therefore low Crude Protein) AND low ‘sugar and starch’. (Hay is always lower in iron than any pasture grass).
Hence after 13 weeks of persevering, Ange’s pony ‘Netta’, far from getting better, had deteriorated with X-Rays showing worsening rotation of the pedal bones when compared with those taken in the early stages. No wonder she was lying down in her stable most of the time, sometimes not even getting up to pee or pooh!
From the first vet visit 3 months prior she had been on a ‘dry lot’ with no grass, but the recommended diet consisted of meadow/Lucerne chaff, copra, all 4 feet, Lucerne pro and Lucerne hay. That is a very high proportion of Lucerne.
Cases like “Netta” do raise the question: How much ‘science’ has actually gone into testing the suitability of Lucerne (alfalfa) for horses with laminitis? It would seem that there has been an assumption made that lucerne is suitable because it is lower in NSC’s than grasses.
(And we, like most people, would be vehemently opposed to any group actually conducting experiments to prove or disprove such theories – there is plenty of anecdotal evidence available which is preferable to sacrificing ANY precious horses).
When it comes to searching what is safe to feed horses with laminitis the advice from the vast majority of professionals and feed companies would lead you to believe that lucerne is ‘safe’. At best some say that Lucerne is unsuitable for ‘some’ horses but you may not find out until it is too late?
Given that laminitis is right up there amongst the worst ‘illnesses’ to befall any equine, being so excruciatingly painful, potentially life-threatening not to mention devastating for any owner, surely it is best to err on the side of caution.
That's our take on the subject.
Ange contacted us on 21st July 20:
“I have a young pony suffering from laminitis. This Friday will be week 13.
Today the vet was back and did more X-rays and they unfortunately are not good.
Bad rotation in all 4 feet now and the 2 off side feet are the worst. She is brighter in herself than she was weeks back, but she is definitely still very tender and reluctant to move too much at all. Is tucked up a lot.
I’ve never had to deal with laminitis before and it’s all extremely stressful not knowing if what I’m doing is right or wrong, is what I’m feeding helping or making her worse, should I be doing something completely different.
Would really love some help to know what direction I should be taking since clearly what I have been doing is not working and made her worse”.
We immediately rang Ange to explain why we were recommending a complete change of diet.
All Lucerne was immediately taken out. Ange’s good friend gave her some plain brown-top hay (which we knew was safe having had it analysed previously for a head-flicking horse).
“By the 30th July there was a BIG improvement, with way bigger and freer steps and then by yesterday 16th August when she had the heart bar shoes removed, she was trotting, bucking & rearing. The most excited I’ve ever seen her in all the time we have had her!
My farrier who is from the UK, couldn’t believe the massive change in her feet and way of walking. He is amazed that such huge progress has been achieved by simply changing her diet.
He made the comment: “It makes you wonder how many others have been put down all because they were on the wrong diet with so called ‘Laminitis safe feeds’ which are ‘approved’ but don’t work and even make things worse”.
LOOK AT HER - could cry I’m so happy! Shoes just came off 10mins ago!”
Ange, Temuka (NZ)