Understanding Insulin Resistance in Horses

Many veterinarians are only now beginning to understand the causes and effects of insulin resistance in horses. In the past, laminitis caused by insulin resistance was often misdiagnosed or left untreated which resulted in horses undergoing an extreme amount of pain and stress. In some instances, an otherwise healthy horse would have to be put down because this condition was not properly treated. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is necessary in order to move glucose from the blood to the cells. As with many conditions, some horses will be predisposed to developing insulin resistance because of their genetics.


In most cases, insulin resistance is caused by a sudden or drastic change in food. For instance, a horse that is accustomed to eating grains and hay that is suddenly presented with thick, lush springtime grasses may develop insulin resistance due to the change in diet. Mineral deficiencies and lack of exercise can all be contributing factors in the development of this condition. A horse that is obese or highly stressed may also develop an insulin resistance. Insulin resistance will often lead to laminitis which is a painful condition that makes it difficult for a horse to walk or even stand.


A simple blood test is all that is necessary in order to determine whether or not a horse has IR. If the test determines that the horse is at risk for developing this condition or if the horse is found to be insulin resistant, one of the most effective means of treatment is an immediate change in diet. If the horse has developed laminitis because of this condition, corrective shoes can help provide a level of relief to the horse's feet and legs. An owner that notices that his or her horse seems to be standing in a way that favors the back legs over the front legs should consult with a veterinarian immediately.


The way that a horse stands or walks can give a good indication as to whether or not it is experiencing pain or tenderness of its legs or feet. If a horse is spending an increasing amount of time lying down, it may have laminitis. Early detection is one of the best ways to prevent insulin resistance from becoming a stressful and painful condition for the horse. Any questions or concerns regarding a horses health, or if the horse seems to be exhibiting strange behaviors, should be dealt with by an immediate consultation with a veterinarian.