An important part of treatment and prevention of laminitis is to limit the water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) intake. To achieve this, access to pasture is restricted and the horse or pony is fed hay instead.But even hay may not be safe for horses with laminitis. Most authorities suggest that horses and ponies prone to laminitis or with insulin resistance should ideally receive hay that has a water soluble carbohydrate concentration not exceeding 100g/kg on a dry matter basis (DM) However, in northern Europe pasture grasses often contain high levels of WSC (>300g WSC/kg DM), which may result in hay with WSC content up to 200g/kgDM.It is often suggested that soaking the hay may reduce its water soluble carbohydrate content and thus make it safer for laminitis-prone horses and ponies. However, the studies that have supported this approach have often used large quantities of water and, as well, the hay may have been chopped prior to soaking. Often owners do not go to such lengths. What is the effect of soaking hay when carried out according to common practice?Dr Annette Longland, Clare Barfoot and Dr Pat Harris conducted an investigation into whether the degree of soaking that is in common use in the UK would have an effect on the WSC content of various hays. The study looked at the loss of WSC and crude protein from a range of British hays, which were either shaken or left compacted in the "flake" and then soaked in just enough water to cover the hay, for various lengths of time. The authors found that soaking hay for up to 16 hours produced variable and incomplete loss of WSC.
As would be expected, the dry matter content of the hays fell after soaking - there was a significant reduction in DM content after 20 minutes soaking, and a continued fall with longer periods of soaking. However, regardless of the duration of soaking or whether the hay was shaken up or left compacted the WSC content of most of the hays remained above the recommended limit for laminitics of 100g/kgDM.The researchers found no significant difference between the compacted or shaken hays. They conclude that soaking cannot be relied on to make hay suitable for feeding to laminitic horses. They recommend that hay for animals prone to laminitis be analysed for WSC content, and only hay that is low in WSC is fed to horses prone to laminitis. Soaking can be used as an extra safeguard.