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EMS and Insulin Resistance

Kate Hore RNutr(Animal). Snr Nutritionist at NAF

EMS and IR are becoming increasingly common, but are widely misunderstood. As many as 88% of laminitis cases are thought to be linked to endocrinopathic disorders, with 66% of these cases being EMS related. With such huge numbers of horses and ponies being affected, it is important we best understand what is happening within the horses body and how we can address these problems.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) has become more recognised in recent years and had been shown to be linked to obesity. Obese horses demonstrate excessive fat cover and uneven distribution, leading to fat pads and cresty necks. Adipose tissue is known to be pro-inflammatory, thus increasing risk of laminitis, however diagnostic testing for EMS should concentrate on proving the horse to be insulin resistance whilst also ruling out PPID as a diagnosis. Blood testing will be used to ascertain the ability of the body to combat high glucose levels, by feeding a concentrate feed, with added dextrose, and taking blood two hours later, anything over 87mmol per litre if blood indicates IR.

Insulin resistance can result in high blood glucose, increase in insulin released by the pancreas potentially leading to pancreatic fatigue, high blood insulin concentration (hyperinsulinaemia), poor glucose delivery & constricted blood to laminae.

Dietary control of obese horses is often the primary response in reducing symptoms of EMS and IR. Removing concentrate feeds or feedstuff high in sugar help to reduce increased glycemic responses which IR horses struggle to manage.

EMS diagram

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