Feeding the Neglected Horse – a Challenging but Rewarding Task

Changes and challenges in the horse industry may have resulted in an increased number of horses that have experienced prolonged periods of inadequate nutrient intakes, resulting in loss of weight and, in some cases, actual starvation. In order for these horses to be brought back to a healthy condition, it is important to assess the current condition to determine an appropriate feeding and health care program in conjunction with an equine veterinarian.

A useful first step in the in rehabbing the neglected horse is to estimate the body condition using the Body Condition Scoring System developed by Henneke et al (1983). Horses that are at or above a body condition score 3 (thin) can generally be brought back to a body condition score of 5 (moderate) in 6-8 weeks with the introduction of a balanced diet (50% good quality hay, 50% formulated feed) fed initially at 1.5% of bodyweight in 4-5 feedings per day. The amount can be gradually increased to 2.5-2.8% of bodyweight (hay offered free choice, grain fed 2-3 x per day, to a maximum 0.5% BW per feeding) as discussed by Heusner (1993). Complete feeds, particularly Senior Feeds, also work very well in this situation with controlled starch and sugar levels, amino acid profile, high digestibility, and easy to chew attributes. These horses are also frequently salt starved, so salt should also be introduced gradually at 1-2 oz per day and increased until it can be offered free choice. The horses should also have their teeth checked and be de-wormed.  If the horses have a heavy parasite load as determined by fecal egg count, they may have to be treated with a half dose the first time to reduce the risk of problems from the de-worming.

Horses that have been truly starved may be in body condition score 1 (poor) or 2 (very thin). If a horse has lost 40% of optimal body weight, it will generally become recumbent (survival rate is low if a horse has lost 45-50% of optimum body weight).  This type of body weight loss normally takes 60-90 days without any feed and more commonly will take 3-4 months with very poor forage and water (Lewis, 1995).  Horses in this condition may be hypoglycemic and hyperkalemic due to body tissue breakdown. These horses require careful attention from an equine veterinarian as IV fluid administration and blood work are essential and support with a sling will probably be required.

Horses that are not recumbent, but are body condition score 1 or 2 will need a very gradual reintroduction of feed. These horses have lost substantial muscle mass as well as essentially all fat and may also be hypoglycemic and hyperkalemic.  One method to recover these horses is by using high quality alfalfa hay as a base high protein, low starch diet, introduced gradually and increased to ad libidum feeding in about 2 weeks (Stull, 2003).  Senior Horse Feeds which have a controlled starch level, added amino acids, direct fed microbials and balanced trace minerals and vitamins have also been used with severely neglected horses.  This type of product can be introduced at 0.5% BW, split into several small feedings per day, and gradually increased over a 10-14 day period to normal feeding rate per feeding directions. Horses with poor dentition may benefit from having the feed dampened to form a mash.

Fresh clean water needs to be available at all times and special care must always be taken to avoid excessive initial feed intake to reduce the risk of colic, laminitis, diarrhea and other metabolic disturbances. Close observation and blood chemistry monitoring may be useful to prevent complications as there are potential risks with any re-feeding effort. De-worming should be done in consultation with an equine veterinarian as the horse recovers.

The best treatment for neglect is prevention. The sooner proper nutrition can be made available to the horse, the less chance there is of permanent damage or untimely death.

References:

 Henneke, D.R., G.D. Potter and T.L. Kreider, Body condition during pregnancy and lactation and reproductive efficiency of the mares.  Theriogenology 21:897, 1984

Heusner, GL, Ad Libitum feeding of mature horses to achieve rapid weight gain. Proc. ENPS pp 86-87, 1993.

Lewis, Lon D. DVM, PhD, Equine Clinical Nutrition: Feeding and Care, Williams & Watkins, pp 416-418, 1995.

Stull, Carolyn, PhD, The Horse Report, UC Davis, Volume 21, Number 3, “Nutrition for Rehabilitation of the Starved Horse” pp 456-457, July 2003.

Managing Over-Weight Horses

Managing your horse’s weight is key to healthy joints and bones, hooves and can play into body physiology including hormone balance. In this video you will learn how to manage weight, while still supplementing a healthy diet. It can be as easy as swapping grains and treats with a ration balancer like Empower Topline Balance.

This video was shared with permission from University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program. Make sure to follow them on Facebook and YouTube for even more equine information & education!

Biosecurity Tips for Show Season

As we enter into horse show season and County Fairs, it is critical to practice biosecurity measures, including:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to ensure horses are current with recommended vaccines.
  2. Keep sick horses at home. Watch for signs of fever, nasal discharge and diarrhea.
  3. Wash your hands frequently!  Bring water, soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towels with you.
  4. Clean and disinfect stalls, especially built-in feeders, at show facilities. Spray-on commercial disinfectants are readily available. Diluted bleach (8 ounces bleach to 1 gallon of water) is an inexpensive disinfectant; it works best on a surface that has been thoroughly cleaned.
  5. Do not share feed and water buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack, or manure forks.
  6. Limit exposure. Do not allow horses to have nose to nose contact. Limit the general public’s contact with your horses.
  7. Upon returning home from a show, wash your hands, shower, and change clothing and shoes before working with horses kept at home.
  8. Isolate returning horses from resident horses for 14 days. Monitor horses daily for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Photo credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Did Someone Say Mud Run?

Spring time can bring rain and muddy conditions which might be perfect if you are doing a Mud Runner 5K. However, less desirable when your horse comes in lame or worse yet, cannot get up from a slip and fall. There are many safety considerations when managing horses in muddy conditions.

Mud can lead to slippery surfaces including paddocks, pastures, and barn entrances. To help control excessively muddy areas of the barn or paddock entrances, direct water runoff away from the entrances/exits of walkways. This will help prevent accumulation of sand, clay, dirt, and water that contribute to a slippery surface. When pastures or paddocks have low areas where water may accumulate, many horses many get the urge to frolic in those slippery areas. Preventing access to or sectioning off those areas can be beneficial until safely dried out. If you have the resources, consulting a field or landscaping specialist, filling in or redirecting water to a safe runoff location is ideal. Horses housed in outdoor turnouts with a shelter or structure often spend time seeking cover out of the rain. A thorough inspection of the footing and drainage away from these areas are a necessary safety consideration as mud, water and waste can accumulate and lead to slippery conditions as horses head to covered areas to get out of the rain. Evaluating your facility for water runoff prior to or at the beginning of the rainy season will help prevent slippery conditions.

After turnout if conditions are muddy watch for signs of injury such as unequal gait, sidewinding or other signs of pain. If any abnormalities occur after muddy conditions consult your veterinarian for an examination.

Other considerations following rainy weather are increased awareness with hoof health. Thrush, which is involves an infection of the horse’s hoof. This condition can be caused by moist, damp, dirty ground or stable conditions. Canker or foot rot in horses is a condition that causes the foot to “rot” away, moist environments often lead to Canker conditions for horses. If you suspect a hoof infection or notice any foul hoof odor, consult your Veterinarian and farrier for treatment. To prevent hoof moisture issues, inspection of hooves daily, control standing water or excessively moist footing to prevent hoof issues.

Ask any reputable pest control specialist and their advice when trying to control mosquitos, roaches, insects or rodents is to control the environmental moisture. All living things rely upon water for survival. Pests often enjoy the soggy areas around buildings, vegetation and other areas that most humans do not spend meticulous effort to keep dry. Drainage systems, gutters, vapor barriers, ventilation and weed/lawn/pasture upkeep are key in pest prevention. Consult a pest control professional who is experienced in working in animal safe environments.

Fly Control for Horses

Thanks to our friends at University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program, here are some tips on how to get a head start on fly control for your horses.

Make sure to follow them on Facebook and YouTube for even more equine information & education!

Heat Stress in Horses

Riding your horse can be a thing of beauty as a graceful gallop around the track can show off the muscular majesty of a horse. Even the most athletic horse however, can suffer from heat stress. It’s especially common in hot weather, and can be extremely dangerous health issue to your horse.

If your horse is showing signs of heat stress, this should be treated immediately using some of the cooling techniques providing in the guide below. If not treated properly and the symptoms continue or worsen, it can lead to damage in the heart, central nervous system, respiratory system, kidneys and liver.

The guide below presents information on the things that can cause heat stress, along with signs to look for, suggestions on treatment, and steps to prevent potential heat stress from occurring in the future.

Heat Stress Guide created by: The Best Ever Pads

Exercise and Its Role in Your Horse’s Topline

A common misperception about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Lack of exercise – or the wrong type of exercise is often blamed for a poor topline. While exercise alters existing muscles, building new muscles is a different story. The nutritional building blocks of muscle (essential amino acids) must be present in sufficient quantities and balanced with adequate calories to rebuild or augment muscle tissue. In fact, if a horse is worked hard but his diet lacks sufficient amino acids, existing muscle mass can shrink. This can be a slippery slope in some situations, and as muscle atrophy sets in, the belief is that the horse needs to work even harder when in fact the fuel is not present (in the form of nutrition) to help support and repair tissue that is broken down with exercise. Just like human athletes, athletic equine partners need more essential amino acids than maintenance horses to maximize the effects of training and allow the horse to look and feel its best.

Certain exercises are thought to improve topline include hill work, backing exercises, and those that encourage the horse to collect and arc the body. These exercises can help condition muscles, but only if the diet is supporting the muscles through proper nutrition.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Ask the Expert: Red Urine in Snow

Question: My horse’s urine appears red in the snow. My horse seems healthy, but should I be concerned (see photo)?
Response: Horse urine can change color after being voided due to the presence of plant metabolites (pyrocatechines) in the urine that turn a red or orange color when mixed with oxygen. This can happen year around, but is especially noticeable in snow. This can also be noticeable in new, light-colored shavings. Normal horse urine appears colorless to yellow to dark yellow when voided. If the urine appears red, brown, or orange as it is being voided that can indicate a serious problem and your veterinarian should be called immediately.
Bottom line, if horse urine is an abnormal color as it is being voided or you observe frequent urination or straining to urinate call your veterinarian immediately. If your horse is passing normal colored urine that turns red or orange in the snow, that is normal.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Biosecurity for Cabin Fever Candidates

In cooler seasons, such as winter, often horse owners travel to warmer climates with their Equine companions. Many important considerations should be made prior to traveling. One of the most important is biosecurity. To better understand biosecurity, it is important to understand the meaning: “Bio” means life, “security” means protection. As horse owners it is important to prevent horses from contagious diseases. These diseases can be transmitted from place to place by other horses, people, insects, equipment, and trailers. Good biosecurity is an excellent habit to make at home and take on the road.

Prepare

Talk to your veterinarian about your travel plans and considerations for a vaccination protocol well in advance of travel, giving your horse’s immune system time to build up protection. Many veterinarians will suggest a herd health program appropriate to your specific lifestyle needs, including travel and awareness of geographical diseases to be aware of. If your horse will be transitioning to different forage or feed, it is helpful to pack enough “transition forage and feed” to last the duration of the trip and enough to transition once you arrive at your destination. Forages vary between geographical regions, it may also be helpful to get a forage analysis ahead of time to be prepared with your transition feeding program.

Transportation

If possible transport your horses in your own trailer. You will be more aware of what kind of exposures exist in your own trailer. If you must transport in a shared trailer or with other horses, be sure to clean and disinfect prior to loading your horse. It may also be helpful to request proof of health records of horses traveling with your own or a reputable transporter who requires proof of vaccination and health certificates for all horses being transported. Some horses are more stressed by travel, be sure to pack plenty transition forage and feed for the duration of the trip and for transition. Hydration and enough periodic rest is beneficial. Once you arrive at your destination, inspect the location for hazards. Do not unload your horse until you are comfortable with the biosecurity and safety of the location. Some things to consider: Are other horses healthy? Have there been any recent health issues on the property or nearby? Are there any insects or pest issued to control prior to your horse unloading? Clean and sanitize all buckets, ensure water sources are in clean and working order, fencing is safe and appropriate and hand washing before handling your horse.

Prevention

If a horse is sick, isolation and a stall notice or special collar will help others know not to handle the sick animal to avoid disease transmission. Basic hand washing is important between handling more than one horse even if the horses are healthy. It is best to have equipment for each individual horse, however if some equipment must be shared it is important to wash and sanitize between horses to prevent disease transmission. Clean footwear is important. After walking in pastures, alleyways, and yards it is important to wash the bottoms of your footwear prior to getting into your vehicle, trailer or stalls/pastures when traveling from farm to farm or any animal environment. Keep weeds and grass cut to prevent insects and pests. Prevent and remove any standing water from puddles, buckets, or old equipment. Use of equine safe fly control program will help control fly populations. Store horse feed and supplements in a cool, dry, well lit, rodent proof, limited access area. Inspect water access daily, clean and empty any water buckets or troughs at least once weekly.

Saddle Fit Impact on Topline

Poor saddle fit can be a symptom of a much larger issue. If the musculature of the horse’s back/topline area is not full and rounded, expressing high quality of muscle, many times a saddle will not fit correctly. In these instances riders may try to overcompensate for this deficiency by using extra padding and/or trying multiple saddles. Poor saddle fit can cause pain and soreness in the horse with pressure and points that may pinch and be uncomfortable. This pain and pressure can manifest itself in a poor attitude or poor performance. In addition, saddle fit issues may show up in irritability during tacking up, hesitation or refusals to take action on one side vs. the other (think leads, etc.) and overall unpleasant disposition.

While poor saddle fit can come from a variety of areas, including size, shape and defects of the saddle, one thing that should be considered is that the topline of the horse is lacking and therefore causing issues with saddle fit. In extreme cases, when topline scores have been improved from a low grade to an ideal grade, the fit of the saddle is enhanced to a noticeable extent. In the illustration below, you can see how the key muscles in the topline area may impact the way that the saddle sits on the horse.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.