Filtering iron helps laminitic horses

January 24, 2016

Early evidence suggests that filtering iron from the water has improved the health of my laminitic horses. They are sounder and have fewer signs of insulin resistance.

Other variables may be factors, so it’s hard to credit the filtering completely.

The horses have been getting small doses of curcumin and ginkgo on and off over the past year, and there’s no question the horses do better when they get those supplements (see end of post for doses and source).

I’ve delayed publishing this post to try to sort out what’s going on, but the curcumin and ginkgo stopped a new bout of winter laminitis for Kurt on Jan. 18, 2016, when the overnight low plummeted to zero, affecting his foot circulation and making his right hind foot sore. I wanted to get that published for anyone else dealing with winter laminitis. Kurt ate the curcumin and ginkgo in the morning, and he was sound by that evening, with little warm-up in temperature the rest of the week.

In January 2015, Kurt wasn’t so lucky. He looked a little foot sore on a similarly frigid morning, and he was dead lame in three feet by the time I got home from work.

We also have followed the advice of equine nutritionist Juliet Getty, Ph.D., to give the horses an unlimited supply of hay so they don’t think food is scarce, fueling insulin resistance. These two Connemaras are getting about 2 1/2 bales (yes, bales) of brome hay a day between them. A year ago, it was four or five flakes of brome hay per horse per day, and the horses were bigger and lumpier. Note that if we weren’t lowering their iron level, that increase in food might be a poor choice.

As of Jan. 23, 2016, both horses are sound and walking on frozen ground with no bute.


February 2015‬: Old footage for comparison of Kurt’s body condition

Jan. 23, 2016: New footage


Robin still wears boots, but new hoof growth appears healthy, with no rings. I can’t wait for that growth to hit the ground to see if he can go without boots.

We’ve been playing around with filtering the water since June 2015 using small RV filters. A good filter for the house is going to cost $2,000, and we’re not going down that road until we’re sure this is the answer.

These RV filters are designed to last three months. Our water has completely clogged them in one month.

These RV filters are designed to last three months. Our water has completely clogged them in one month.

We originally added an RV filter to the well spigot, the water source used to fill the horses’ rubber tubs in their shed. Filters designed to last three months were completely clogged in one month. There were times when the filter had to be removed just to get water to come out of the spigot. Water usually blasts out of there like a fire hydrant.

The indoor water was not filtered at first. The horses could drink unfiltered water from buckets on the porch if they wandered over that way.

At the same time, the boys were intermittently getting curcumin and ginkgo, supplements that chelate (leech) heavy metals such as iron from the body. For humans with iron overload, more common treatments are chelation drugs or blood letting (regularly donating blood), which reduces the iron level in the blood.

I’m aware of one recent instance of French researchers using blood letting in an iron-overloaded laminitic pony that was getting too much iron from a bore hole. The blood letting resolved the case successfully.

Curcumin and ginkgo also increase circulation, and that may be a factor in the horses’ feet improving.

The horses were on and off the supplements in 2015 because we were working through some issues. During the summer, Kurt itched terribly. That turned out to be due to the fly spray, but I stopped giving the curcumin and ginkgo for a while to eliminate possible causes.

Robin developed two ulcer-type tummy aches from the curcumin and ginkgo during 2015; both supplements increase bleeding in a similar manner to bute. He had to stop taking the supplements during those times.

Kurt got a gash in his lower eyelid before Christmas 2015. He was on bute while he had sutures, so he was off the curcumin and ginkgo during that time.

I should mention that Kurt has at times been on bute with the curcumin and ginkgo with no ulcer issues. The supplements don’t always cause ulcers.

We got really serious about filtering the water on Jan. 4, 2016. We don’t use the outdoor spigot during the winter. We run warm water through a hose connected to an indoor faucet using a faucet-to-hose connector (I get nothing for linking to that; just trying to save you time searching for one). An RV filter was added to the kitchen sink (against the label advice of the manufacturer). Since that time, not one drop of unfiltered water has been ingested by the horses, cats or humans.

Here’s what I know:

Robin comparison 2016The horses’ hard cresty necks are now mushy. The crest is less pronounced though not gone yet.

Overall, the horses look less puffy.

Kurt’s pulse in his feet is gone. Robin’s pulse, which has been pounding since 2005, is at times almost imperceptible.

The horses’ have gone on two midnight runs around the farm in January 2016. It’s fun and terrifying at the same time to hear them gallop like that.

Kurt’s outbreaks of drenching sweats, which were a huge problem last winter and to a lesser extent during summer 2015, seem to be gone.

The horses’ water tubs are much cleaner with the iron-filtered water, and the water doesn’t smell sour after three days, as in the past.

In Robin’s feet, new growth doesn’t have the rings, and the wall at ground level looks much healthier.

Inside, the cats now drink the fresh water from any bowl. They used to go from bowl to bowl looking for “better” water. One really fat cat is suddenly galloping around.

Two other things of note: In February 2015, one of my favorite cats died at age 3. His glucose level was 480 on Jan. 23, 2015 (64 to 170 is normal); he received insulin for three weeks and that number dropped to 395 on Feb. 9. He died the next day.

And my FIV-positive cat survived long past when he was expected to live (he was at least 15 when he died in September 2015). He had a blood test at the end and was only slightly anemic. The vet noted that anemia was often a problem for these cats. Grady may have been the one resident that benefited from the iron-laden water.

Why it took so long to suspect iron:

The fact that it took me this long to focus on iron probably stems from the fact that my former vets simply blamed me for my six horses’ laminitis. Over and over, I was told I was feeding the horses too much, though I knew I was feeding far less than other horse owners. The vets really had me convinced I caused everything.

To see the horses regain their health from filtering the water is a huge boost to my confidence.

Perhaps vets can learn from this example and take a new approach. And for horse owners out there being told they caused their horses’ laminitis, don’t take that as a final answer. Keep looking.

Tips on curcumin:

Curcumin stains everything yellow. Be very careful with it and try not to spill it. I pour new bags into empty Heiro canisters, and I don’t put the teaspoon in the canister because that just coats the teaspoon with curcumin, which stains my hands; I wash the teaspoon after every use.

My horses have been getting a heaping 1/4 teaspoon of curcumin and big pinch of ginkgo twice a day. Some weeks, they get nothing to try to prevent ulcers. Since the water is filtered now, I’m not sure how much chelating we should continue to do. But as I mentioned above, the supplements sure helped Kurt’s circulation with the frigid temperatures.

I took them myself for awhile in 2015. I come from a family of anemic women, but my own iron level was normal in 2014, and my sister said that wasn’t normal. Initially, the curcumin and ginkgo made me feel like a new person. I could think clearly for the first time in years. Ultimately, they started making me dizzy. I probably removed too much iron. And I’ve never been sure of the human dose. When I give those supplements to my horses, I keep in mind my own experience and try not to overdue it.

Sources for curcumin and ginkgo:

Curcumin: sells curcumin (250 grams, $101; get a smaller bag if you just want to try it).

Ginkgo: Starwest Botanicals sells ginkgo leaf cut and sifted (1 pound bag, $10.42; I don’t know the difference between the regular and organic, but we bought regular; we may never go through that entire bag; perhaps order something smaller).

Connecting an RV filter inside:

We used the "hose protectors" that came with the filters to prevent the hose from kinking at the faucet end.

We used the “hose protectors” that came with the filters to prevent the hose from kinking at the faucet end.

If you’re going to connect one of these filters indoors during the winter (and I do not recommend it), we have found that attaching a 6-foot hose to the faucet and then the filter to the hose is the best approach. Attaching the filter directly to the faucet results in the filter lying vertically in the sink; ours got clogged in three days in that position and had to be replaced. The filter seems to need to be at least partially vertical. I hold the filter in my hand (or very carefully balance it over the side of the buckets) when filling the buckets, but fair warning: If that filter hits the floor, a ton of water winds up on the floor in two or three seconds.

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