What is Insulin Resistance (IR)?
Before we look at how to recognize Insulin Resistance (IR) in your horse, lets first look at what it is and how it starts. Insulin Resistance (IR) falls under the umbrella of Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). It is a sugar metabolism condition that occurs as the result of over-feeding unsuitable feeds and unrestricted grass grazing usually combined with lack of exercise.
How does it start?
Before we can understand how the imbalance happens, we must first understand how a healthy horse metabolizes sugar naturally.
When blood sugar rises after eating, insulin is secreted by the pancreas to open up glucose receptors in the muscles and liver. This transports the sugars out of the blood and into the tissues for energy or for storage.
However, when the muscles and liver storage depots are full, the receptors will no longer open in response to insulin. This prevents sugar from being transported into the tissues. At this point the insulin production will continue to rise in an effort to keep signaling the receptors to open.
What happens next?
Sugars which cannot be stored as glycogen in the liver must now convert to fat or triglycerides. This results in weight gain and sometimes a fatty liver.
Blood sugar and insulin imbalances can also disrupt other endocrine glands including the adrenals, thyroid and pituitary as they work harder to regulate the insulin levels and the disruption to the metabolism.
Once the fat cells are full, the sugar has nowhere else to go and will continue to rise in the blood. This results in a condition known as diabetes.
How can you recognize if your horse Insulin Resistant (IR)?
High blood sugar levels are responsible for several different horse health imbalances. But here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to watch for.
- Fat pads
- Crested neck
- Excessive hunger
- Poor immunity
- General inflammation
- Body soreness
The most significant and serious condition in the list above is Laminitis.
How does sugar cause laminitis?
Laminitis occurs when the laminae, a specialized tissue inside the hooves, becomes inflamed. The laminae is a type of connective tissue that holds the coffin bone in place. And when the lamina becomes weak and inflamed from too much sugar and toxicity, the coffin bone will begin to rotate downward causing pain, inflammation, and soundness problems.
Sugar is highly inflammatory for horses so as the levels of sugar and insulin increase so does the inflammation of the hooves. This is particularly exacerbated if the hooves have not been properly trimmed.
Laminitis can range in severity but can be incredibly painful for horses. In milder cases, laminitic horses will look stiff and sore as they gingerly put one hoof in front of the other. And in severe cases, they will barely be able to move at all. Some horses will even lay down for extended periods of time.
Just because your horse is laminitic doesn’t mean they are Insulin Resistant
Even though laminitis and Insulin Resistance often present together, laminitis can also be caused by other factors. For example, a combination of nutrient deficiencies, stress, and a bad trim can also lead to pain, inflammation, and a weakened lamina.
The bottom line?
When assessing your horse for signs of Insulin Resistance (IR) it is important to look at the whole symptom profile. If your horse has sore hooves in combination with any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above such as fat pads, a crested neck, irritability (especially at feeding time), or general inflammation and body soreness, your horse is most likely trying to tell you that they are Insulin Resistant.
So now that you know how to recognize Insulin Resistance (IR) in your horse, you can take steps to formulating a metabolic friendly program using diet, lifestyle and natural remedies.
Not sure how?
Watch for my new online mini-course, Resolving Equine Metabolic Syndrome Naturally, coming soon! To make sure you get notified when it’s open for registration (if you aren’t already on my list) You can get on my list here…
I am an animal lover, health consultant, scientist and educator. I am passionate about delivering safe and effective health care to all animals but horses and dogs have a special place in my heart. I believe that through education and awareness of natural animal health we can drastically improve their quality of life and longevity. I invite you to join me on my quest to make the world a better place for all of them.