Despite decades of research, it’s not clear why some horses develop insulin resistance while others that are fed and managed identically stay healthy. A group of Australian researchers found out that this form of resistance may have a hereditary factor.
The scientists designed a research plan that used heavy-bodied Andalusian horses and ponies as well as Standardbreds, horses that tend to develop laminitis infrequently.
All equines were given oral glucose as well as intravenous glucose. Blood samples were collected every six hours and tested for glucose and insulin levels. Results showed that the Standardbreds needed less insulin and took a shorter amount of time to bring glucose levels back to base level, while the Andalusians and ponies produced a much greater amount of insulin and took longer to clear the glucose. This suggests that genetic makeup of some horse breeds includes a tendency toward developing insulin resistance, while the tendency is not evident in the genome of other breeds.
Does this finding prove that the “just bad luck” explanation is correct? Owners of heavy-bodied equines may think so, especially if they own horses or ponies of mixed or unknown breeding, but management can still go a long way toward minimizing problems caused by insulin resistance. According to Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., equine nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research, there are several things owners can do. She advises, “Limiting free grazing, using a medium-grade hay, eliminating large grain meals, cutting out treats, and keeping horses on a schedule of frequent exercise are steps that can help them maintain a desirable body weight and avoid the complications of obesity.”
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