Certain individual horses or ponies appear predisposed to repeated episodes of pasture-associated laminitis, but the mechanisms underlying this remain unclear. High-risk animals have a metabolic type which includes a tendency towards obesity and abnormal functioning of the hormone insulin within the body, similar to a syndrome in people known as human metabolic syndrome (HMS). Thus similar mechanisms that underlie the cardiovascular diseases associated with HMS, including altered blood vessel function, abnormal functioning of the hormone insulin and low grade chronic inflammation, could contribute to laminitis.
Most studies have investigated animals after an episode of disease and currently there are no validated diagnostic tests that identify at-risk animals either before the disease occurs for the first time or when their history is unknown. The influence of management on initial disease occurrence is also unclear. A unique prospective study is therefore being undertaken in which several measures of obesity and metabolic status, as well as the management regimen, will be assessed biannually over a 4 year period in 400 animals with no previous history of laminitis.
The results will be compared between those animals that subsequently develop laminitis over this time period and those that do not. Thus it may be possible to identify predisposing metabolic characteristics and thereby develop a robust predictive algorithm for laminitis predisposition based on a number of risk factors and the results of dynamic tests. Additionally, it may be possible to identify management practices that increase the chances of laminitis occurring in predisposed animals. Hence, this may facilitate the prevention of this painful disease in animals identified as predisposed by allowing preventative management countermeasures to be implemented prior to disease onset.