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Springtime Is Dangerous For Four-Footed Fatties

Springtime Is Dangerous For Four-Footed Fatties

“Pony-owners should make sure their four-footed friends aren’t getting dangerously overweight on a diet of rich spring grass,” warns the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

“Ponies think fat is sexy! Ponies think fat is fun! Ponies are the sumo-wrestling champions of the equine world. And they don’t need chocolate bars and fish and chips to pile on those extra kilograms,” says the SPCA’s Veterinary Adviser, Marjorie Orr.

“Fat ponies may look cute, but, in ponies, fatness can cause laminitis. Otherwise known as ‘founder’, this acutely painful inflammation of the feet lining is one of the major causes of lameness amongst ponies in New Zealand.

“You can recognise laminitis when you see a pony leaning back and placing most of its weight on its hind legs, to relieve the pain on its front feet. A preventive diet at an early stage is essential, because apart from being very painful, laminitis can lead to permanent crippling and distorting damage to the feet,” she says.

Feet that have had laminitis for a while grow ridged and distorted horn. According to Dr Orr, it can be very difficult if not impossible to treat feet effectively once their condition has reached this stage.

“Occasionally, laminitis is caused by acute inflammation such as womb infections after foaling. But, in the great majority of cases, the condition results from an over-rich diet. In other words, too much grass!” she says.

Dr Orr adds that by careful management of their ponies’ food intake, owners can dramatically reduce the risk of laminitis occurring.

“With the spring grass sprouting and growing, any pony that is at all plump should be on a diet. Owners can choose to yard their ponies or simply fence them off. Whatever they do, they need to restrict the ponies’ access to pasture.

“If you are not sure how much feed your pony needs, ask your vet, but generally a slice of good quality hay morning and evening is sufficient. Hard feed concentrates or grain are to be avoided as these too can lead to laminitis. But the pony will need ready access to clean drinking water at all times, especially in warm weather,” says Dr Orr.

“Your plump little pony certainly won’t thank you for keeping it off pasture, and will probably make a point of sucking in its cheeks and staring at you reproachfully each time you pass. But when laminitis is a risk, you really do need to be tough to be kind,” she adds.

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