Can elevated iron cause laminitis?

My newest obsession with my laminitic horses actually is a throwback to one I had in 2005: water.

I want to know if my well water might have played a role in making my horses insulin resistant.

My horses haven’t had a lot of common denominators in their founder cases, other than all the cases appear to have been related to insulin resistance.

As the cases were happening, all I knew was that perfectly healthy horses were blowing up like balloons, despite me cutting back their food to the bare minimum.

One mare foundered after consecutive snowstorms in the middle of winter. One foundered about three hours after she received her spring shots. One foundered on Memorial Day weekend (we’re big on holiday emergencies). They were all different ages. Same breed, but two were completely different bloodlines.

The hay supplies were completely different each time, since I changed hay providers after each new founder case.

So, I have struggled to find the smoking gun.

One factor I looked at was water. I had my well water tested in 2005, and nothing stood out. That was in part due to the fact that, next to several readings, the optimum range for that reading was listed as unavailable.

I originally was looking at the theory that too much calcium in the water was leaching the horse’s magnesium and making them insulin resistant. It did appear that a new magnesium supplement I had started using had slowed the recurrences of laminitis, but I readily admitted that it might be a coincidence.

Anyway, calcium was one of the readings on my water test that did not have an optimum range. The extension office that tested my water thought the water was fine. I moved on.

Now, I’m getting some encouragement to revisit this.

I’m investigating iron levels in my well water, though, again, I’m not sure this is going anywhere.

It sure would be nice if we could pin much of the country’s laminitis on iron-heavy well water.

Dr. Dan Pitzen, a water expert in Ohio, published a report several years ago titled: “Some laminitis problems in horses may be caused by excessive iron intake.” It appears to have been published in 2006 (that’s the date the Word document online was created), though I’m not sure.

In it, he says:

“Thirteen years ago when routinely formulating rations for dairy cattle based on laboratory analysis of grain, forage and water supplies, I observed a connection between iron intake and some health disorders. When the forage contained over 400 parts per million (ppm) of iron and/or the water supply contained over 0.3 ppm iron, cows often exhibited more sore feet problems, rough dull hair coats, silent estrus (heats), and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases. When supplemental sources of iron were removed, health and breeding usually improved in these herds.

“When in excess, iron is a prooxidant (free radical generator) that is damaging to body tissue and organs. The health of animals with a high iron intake usually responds to supplementation of higher than normal levels of antioxidant nutrients such as Vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and copper. As a mineral, iron binds with zinc and copper and reduces their absorption through the intestinal wall. Zinc and copper are essential for the growth of good quality hooves. Copper is essential for good tendons and ligaments.

“My observations were published in Feed Management magazine, June 1993, and Feed International, August 1996 in an article titled, ‘The Trouble With Iron (Prooxidant:Antioxidant Balancing).’

“In the last several years I have made similar observations regarding iron toxicity in horses, particularly as the primary cause of some incidences of laminitis (founder).”

I talked to Dr. Pitzen by phone today (Oct. 24, 2011), and I’m not sure he remembered the report. I didn’t get many answers.

Meanwhile, I also saw online a presentation that Dr. Eleanor Kellon, a veterinarian, made in 2006 in Belgium titled “Iron status in hyperinsulinemic/insulin resistant horses.”

I emailed her Sunday to ask if I could read a paper or see more from her presentation and did not receive a response.

So, for now, I’ll just have to keep chipping away at this on my own.

I called Dairy One and asked that an iron test be added to my forage test on the brome hay for an additional fee of $13.

And I am going to retest my water, though I’d love to have a recommendation for a lab, since I know lab tests vary. I think the last test cost me in the $40s.

My last water test showed the iron level at .017 parts per million. That’s considered low, I now know. A level of 0.3 is considered high enough to stain fixtures, but even that is not considered unhealthy for people, though Dr. Pitzen apparently did consider it unhealthy for cows who were getting too much iron elsewhere.

I have nothing but trouble with the iron in my well water staining everything, from my water tanks to my clothes to my fixtures. So, I’m not sure how I could come up with a water level of .017, when 0.3 is supposed to be needed to stain things, so we’ll just see what a new test says.

I’d also like to know what the iron level is in what little feed my horses have been getting, but Purina is not making that easy. Iron is not listed on the bag or Purina’s website.

And the last variable is the mineral blocks to which the horses have always had access. What role are those playing?

Lacking any other good ideas, this is the one we’re following this week. I’ll keep you posted.

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