LIZZIE DRURY MSC RNUTR
It is fairly inevitable that at some point during your time of owning a horse, that sickness or injury will strike at some point. It is usually the case that a period of rest will be necessary, which will often mean the need for sudden changes in normal management and feeding routines. This in itself adds to the extra worry, as you will need to try and make the situation as stress free as possible for your horse to help speed up recovery time.
Whilst primarily veterinary treatment and care will be the first line of defence, nutrition has a role to play in aiding the recovery process.
Feeding your horse at this time, will not only have to serve to meet his maintenance requirements but must also provide additional support for the healing and repair process. One of the main initial objectives is to make the transition from the ‘competition or working’ diet to the ‘rest and recovery’ diet as smoothly as possible to avoid any potential digestive upsets.
Forage; should form the mainstay of any horses’ diet
A horse that has been grazing grass, which has a high moisture content, will have to contend to a change to predominantly hay or haylage, and therefore a change to an increase in dry matter intake and reduced digestibility. This potentially could lead to impaction colic, so ensuring adequate water intake will be important. Fluid intake can be promoted by soaking hay and by feeding other high moisture feeds such as carrots and soaked sugar beet or Super Fibre Pencils.
Horses also tend to drink less water when it is cold, so it is always useful if time allows to offer a bucket of warm water to increase water intake. If a box resting horse has access to an automatic drinker it is imperative to ensure that they are drinking from this. All too often we see problems with impaction colic’s that have been caused by insufficient water intake. If in any doubt hang some water buckets. Providing access to a salt lick and adding 2 ounces of salt per day to your horses feed will help to keep the thirst response stimulated, which will help to keep your horse hydrated.
Forage should be provided on an ad-libitum basis or at least at 1.5% of bodyweight, to help avoid boredom and the risk of the development of stereotypic behaviours such as crib biting and weaving. Insufficient fibre in the diet will also show itself in wood chewing, which is an extremely destructive activity not to mention the array of other potentially harmful digestive disorders!!
Ensuring that the horse is able to trickle feed will also help to keep stomach acid secretions neutralized by continual saliva production, which will help to reduce the risk of ulcers developing. Providing forage on an ad-libitum basis is ideal but many horses are good-doers and this can exacerbate the weight issue, but rather than just leave him with long periods with nothing to eat, it requires a little initiative to find ways of reducing his intake, while extending his eating time.
Here are some ideas:
- Double netted small holed haynets Haynets hanging somewhere suitable where they can’t be pushed against the wall for easier and faster intakes!
- Several haynets around the stable
- Supplementing some of the hay for a low calorie chaff
- Supplementing some of the hay with some Super Fibre Cubes hidden in some bedding or in a small pile of hay
- ……….. They love foraging for each and every cube, which helps use up some time
- Replacing some of the hay with Super Fibre Cubes in a treat ball.
We always love to hear any ideas that you have also found have worked successfully!
Super Fibre Cubes are a great way to increase the fibre content of the diet and to increase eating time. The pencils have a low-starch and sugar content and are cereal free, helping to maintain an even temperament, as well as supporting good digestive health. Soya oil is used within the pencil to support skin and coat condition.
Concentrate Feed; Feed little and often and match the right feed to the horses requirements
Changes in concentrate feed should ideally be done gradually, and normally a transition time of 7 - 10 days is recommended. During times of enforced stabling and box rest the diet change needs to be made rather more quickly (3 - 4 days), which provides a major challenge for the gut microflora. The use of digestive aids such as a probiotic or yeast can be helpful. The use of these I would also recommend if your horse were receiving antibiotics or other drugs, all of which could have a negative impact on the health of the microflora.
Suitable feeds for these situations are those that are high in digestible fibre sources, such as soya hulls, alfalfa and sugar beet. These feeds are non-heating, so help to maintain a more manageable temperament. If you are feeding a non-heating complete feed such as Super Fibre Cubes or Re-Leve® you must make sure that you are able to feed the minimum recommended amount of these to ensure a balanced ration. If you are unsure then always check or consider using a feed balancer. Typically minimum feeding rates for horses are 2.0 - 2.5 Kg per day.
Mixing high fibre mixes or cubes, such as Re-Leve® or Saracen Super Fibre Cubes with a quality chaff will also help to extent eating time, which is a good thing. Alfalfa is a good chaff to use because of its quality protein content. Essential and non-essential amino acids are important for cell renewal, tissue and muscle repair.
Feeds that rely on cereals to provide the energy can often be ‘heating’ or in other words lead to excitable behaviour in some individual horses. Where a high energy intake is required to help maintain body condition in sick or injured horses, the use of vegetable oils or high fat supplements, such as Equi Jewel® are a preferred option, which can safely be fed at a rate of 1 - 2 lbs per day.
Re-Leve® is a high-fibre, low-starch, cereal-free ration. Highly digestible ‘Super-fibres’, soya hulls, alfalfa pellets, beet pulp and oil supply the energy and calories, reducing the reliance on starch. Re-Leve® is fully fortified with a concentrated source of proteins, trace elements as well as a yeast to support optimal fibre digestion and elevated levels of important anti-oxidants Vitamin E and selenium to support optimal immune function.
Equi-Jewel® is pelleted, high-oil, stabilised rice-bran supplement designed to increase the calorie density of any ration. The essential fatty acids contained in Equi-Jewel® support coat and skin condition and horses receiving Equi-Jewel® will quickly exhibit stunning coat gloss and bloom. Equi-Jewel® is fortified with the correct level of Vitamin E and ensures optimum calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
To ensure a healthy horse providing optimum levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and quality protein is important. The provision of these becomes more important when a horse is sick or injured and this is also very true for horses and ponies that may have succumbed to laminitis. These horses are under a huge amount of stress, which affects the rate of repair and renewal of cells and tissues, as well as adding extra pressure to the immune system. Complete feeds will provide adequate levels of these if you are able to feed up to the manufacturers recommended amount. However, in many cases stabled horses particularly rely largely on forage for energy provision with only small quantities of additional complementary feeds being fed. In this situation where further nutrient support may be required the use of a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or a feed balancer would be recommended such as Essential Balancer. Feed balancers are usually fed at a rate of 100 grams / 100 Kg bodyweight.
Essential Balancer is a low-sugar, low-starch balancer that can be fed alongside compound feeds being fed below the manufacturer's recommended levels, or to balance forage only diets. Dense in vitamins, minerals and quality protein sources, Essential Balancer helps to maintain muscle tone as well as supporting optimum health and vitality. A source of Omega 3 fatty acids helps to condition and shine the coat, creating a picture of health inside and out. A blend of yeast cultures is also included to support a healthy digestive tract and optimise digestion and energy extraction from the fibre sources in the ration.
While it is vital that your horses diet contains optimum levels of vitamins and minerals, do not think that more is necessarily better, and avoid further supplementation with blood boosters and tonics etc unless you have been specifically advised to. Excesses of certain trace elements and fat-soluble vitamins can be toxic in large doses. The level of one nutrient in the diet can have a negative impact on the absorption of others. To avoid the risks of over supplementation seek advice. Where the addition of particular vitamins maybe warranted would for example be in the case of Vitamin E. The largest and most natural source of vitamin E is in the pasture. Horses with no or severely restricted access to pasture benefit from supplementation with vitamin E, which has also been proven to help maintain a healthy immune response e.g. KERx Nano E™.
Horses that are sick and injured can quickly become depressed not only through the effects of the injury or disease itself but by the isolation from field mates and the companionship that it provides. For some horses this may mean that they lose their appetite and this can be very frustrating and worrying for you as the owner. The most important thing to remember is not to over face your horse at meal times. Huge haynets and large concentrate feeds can exaggerate the situation. Offer smaller but more frequent meals of hay, and always remove left overs before replacing with fresh hay. Research has shown that horses’ appetites are increased when a variety of forage sources are offered in a ‘cafeteria’ style, so as well as feeding hay or haylage you can also try buckets of chaff, chopped grass and Super Fibre Pencils in a treat ball.
Keep concentrate feeds very small, offering a handful at a time if necessary, and adding warm molasses or even a bran mash can sometimes help to break the fasting pattern. Freshly picked grass is usually enough to perk up picky feeders so you may find yourself in the garden for a couple of hours each day! Hiding sliced apples and carrots in haynets can help provide some distraction, although from experience they then do start to think that this should happen at all times!!!
Regular grooming sessions will not only help to keep your horses coat in good condition but it helps to stimulate the circulation and the contact with your horse will help to alleviate the stress of being alone in the stable. An eye and nose wash will also go a long way in helping to make your horse feel more comfortable and refreshed!
Suddenly having a sick or injured horse on your hands can be a worrying time, so never hesitate to pick up the phone to ask for help and advice about the best or tried and tested ways of making sure that things go as smoothly as possible. In cases of specific illness, such as colic surgery, liver disease, laminitis and Cushing’s Disease etc, I would always recommend that you speak to a nutritionist about a suitable diet. Try to avoid using Google or general forum advice because there is a lot of myth out there and not enough knowledge or research behind some of the recommendations.
IF YOU ARE DEALING WITH A CONVLESCING HORSE ON BOX REST SARACACEN RECOMMEND YOU SEEK THE ADVICE OF A FULLY QUALIFIED EQUINE NUTRITIONIST.
NEED SOME GUIDANCE?
For a personalised feeding plan for your ‘good-doer’ please complete our simple and free Feed Advice Form. Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to one of our qualified nutritionists for some immediate advice, please call our Feed Advice Line on 01622 718 487