Equine laminitis is a devastating condition that impacts a high percentage of horses throughout their lives.  Despite years of research and millions of dollars spent, we are no closer to a solution than we were 10-20 years ago.  The same standards of therapy are applied in hopes of increasing results.  The sad fact is that most of these patients are impacted by their condition lifelong, requiring ongoing care, with many not returning to a significant level of soundness.  Research, both on the human and veterinary side has however, pointed us in one significant direction that may yield further answers and solutions, which is the hindgut microbiome.  Your horse’s feces may provide more answers than you think!

Equine Laminitis

Equine Laminitis

The body is covered with bacteria that aid in normal health and balance, with different bacterial species being present on the skin, body cavities, and within organ tissues, including the gastrointestinal tract.  It is not just the bacteria, but other organisms such as yeast and protozoa, which make up the microbiome and create balance.  In a healthy horse, when the microbiome is balanced, health is often obtained.  When the microbiome is out of balance (dysbiosis), favoring more harmful organisms, then health can be impacted.

In many research studies on the laminitis and metabolic associated conditions in the horse, a potentially negative shift in the bacterial population within the gastrointestinal tract is evident.  Research indicates that in these patients, certain populations of more harmful bacteria tend to increase in numbers, which includes lactic acid bacteria (LAB), Lactobacillus, and includes certain Streptococcus strains.  As these groups rise in numbers, as a result of many influencing factors, many negative events can take place. These include:

  • Impaired digestion and nutrient production / absorption
  • Increased inflammatory status
  • Impaired production of short chain fatty acids
  • Increased production of harmful substances (i.e. monamines)
  • Creation of increased gut wall permeability or ‘leaky gut’
  • Impaired immune response

All of these factors contribute to ongoing circulation concerns, inflammatory markers, altered insulin sensitivity, altered leptin sensitivity, increased tissue degeneration, and overall altered health to the patient.

The causes of the dysbiosis can be many including:

  1. Dietary contributors
  2. Stress (physical and mental)
  3. Ongoing pain
  4. Medications
  5. Genetic factors

The altered balance or dysbiosis in the gastrointestinal microbiome has been noted in many research papers, but the exact link between laminitis and metabolic syndrome is undetermined.  The problem is evident in most equine laminitis patients, but whether if the dysbiosis is a primary or secondary event remains to be determined.

In an initial pilot study conducted by Dr. Tom Schell, the dysbiosis was confirmed in a group of patients through culturing methodology.  In a follow up study by Dr. Tom Schell, a set regimen was put into place with a group of equine patients, noting improvements in the microbiome dysbiosis and subsequently, clinical improvement in all patients.

As a result of those two studies, Dr. Schell continues to explore the connection between the fecal microbiome and overall health in horses.  Laminitis is just one of potential concerns linked to this dysbiosis as other health and lameness conditions could likewise be connected.

Purpose of the Research Trial

We will be recruiting 20 horses with metabolic or pasture associated laminitis (PAL) into the study.  During the first phase, submitted fecal material will be cultured and examined for different bacterial populations, including yeast, to assess on a broad scale if there is variation in bacterial numbers present within the patient group.  During the second phase, equine patients will be placed on predetermined supplement regimens along with dietary changes for a minimum of 2 weeks.  The third phase would be to reculture the patients and assess impact on the microbiome as well as clinical changes in their condition.  Dependent on the results, some patients may experience a wash out period, then restarted on a different regimen to reassess impact.

Qualifying for the Study

In order to qualify for the study, horses and their owners must meet these set criteria:

  1. The horse must have a diagnosed history of chronic laminitis either associated with metabolic related conditions or pasture associated.  There must be documentation to verify the diagnosis including veterinary records or radiographs demonstrating chronic coffin bone rotation.
  2. The horses must be located within the United States for fecal acquisition.
  3. The horses must be undergoing routine farrier care.
  4. The owners must be willing to collect and ship fecal material as directed at their expense either next day or 2 day delivery.
  5. The owners must be willing to implement provided supplements as directed.
  6. The owners must be willing to make dietary changes as directed or advised.
  7. The owners must be willing to keep a daily record of observations to their horse and report that information weekly.
  8. Submission of most recent radiographs/x-rays along with ground level front and side photos of both forefeet, along with full body image of the equine patient will be required for record keeping purposes.

What is Provided with the Research Trial?

This research trial is a personally funded project by Dr. Tom Schell in conjunction with Nouvelle Research, Inc., in an ongoing effort to aid in the cause for laminitis in the horse.

This research trial will include at no charge to the participant:

  • History, radiographs, and photo review with comments
  • Fecal cultures and evaluation
  • Dietary evaluation and recommendations
  • Supplements

Do you want to participate?

Space is extremely limited.  If you would like to submit your horse for consideration into the research trial, please contact Dr. Tom Schell by email at tschelldvm@gmail.com.  Please put “Laminitis Trial” as your subject line.


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