If you are a horse owner, you know that laminitis is a life-threatening condition. Even if your horse recovers, his days as a riding horse could be over. You're careful with his feed and don't allow him to gorge on spring grass. However, inadvertently using the wrong type of wood shavings in his stall could cause laminitis in your horse. If you don't use shavings specifically sold for horses, always find out what woods it contains.
If your horse's bedding contains any black walnut shavings, you are risking his life. According to the University of Minnesota Extension website, clinical signs of toxicity occur within hours of horses bedded with shavings containing as little as 20 percent black walnut, whether made from fresh or old wood. The Kentucky Equine Research website puts the numbers even lower: just 5 percent. Since furniture makers prize this hardwood, never use shavings originating from a furniture manufacturer. Black walnut shavings have a reddish hue, compared with light-colored pine shavings. If you have black walnut trees in your pastures, cut them down and pull out the stumps. Horses consuming parts of the tree or the walnuts can suffer from laminitis as a result.
Laminitis from Black Walnut Shavings
A horse stricken with laminitis experiences severe pain. The horse shifts his weight to the rear, trying to relieve the stress on his front hooves. Generally, his feet are hot, with a noticeable pulse. The legs might swell. Laminitis is a veterinary emergency. Untreated, it can lead to founder, of which the worst case scenario is the horse's coffin bone rotating and penetrating the bottom of the hoof. If you suspect the bedding is the cause, get him out of the stall at once, even if he is reluctant to move. Place him in a stall deeply bedded with pine shavings, wood pellets or straw.
Other Shavings to Avoid
Although butternut tree shavings are less common than black walnut shavings, they produce similar results. While cedar shavings are sold in pet stores as small animal bedding, it's not a good choice for horses. Some horses are sensitive to the oils in the wood, so you might have to deal with an allergic reaction. Overall, cedar shavings don't decompose as efficiently as pine shavings. Wood type isn't the only factor in shavings safety. If not milled for bedding, shavings can contain extremely sharp parts -- enough to injure your horse while standing or lying in it or you when you're spreading it out.
If you want to use wood shavings in your stalls, your safest bet is purchasing the bagged pine shavings marketed primarily for horses and available at farm supply stores. If buying loose shavings in bulk, make sure the dealer is experienced with the needs of horse owners and can guarantee the nature of any woods included in the pile. You might consider using wood pelleted bedding manufactured for horses. After wetting down the pellets, you rake them out in the stall for a shavings-like consistency. Classic straw bedding, more expensive than shavings and more labor intensive for stall cleaning, is another safe choice.