Ask the vet

When does a horse need electrolytes?

Horses with intense levels of activity, especially in warmer climates, sweat a lot – often more than 10 litres per hour. The sweat contains a lot of water and salt that the horse requires to function optimally. A lack of salt can lead to cramps and muscle disorders. Dehydration and a lack of fluid can lead to colic and muscle disorders and hence, it is essential to replace any lost fluids. Electrolytes add salt to the horse’s diet, making it thirsty and wanting to drink more. Feeding the horse Special Processed Cereals (SPC) such as KRAFFT Maxbalance SPC, KRAFFT SPORT SPC or KRAFFT GROOV SPC can help it normalise its fluid balance and recover faster. For more information and advice, contact your equine nutritionist or vet.

How should you feed a horse with diarrhoea?

There are several reasons for why a horse may suffer with diarrhoea. First of all, it is important to rule out treatable ailments such as gastric ulceration or intestinal inflammation. Ask your vet for advice. Stress-induced diarrhoea in competition horses is difficult as it means they lose a lot of much needed fluid. Giving such horses Special Processed Cereals containing concentrate feed can help. SPC feeds activate the protein (Protein AF) which regulates and normalises the fluid balance in the horse’s gut and body. Change all or part of your concentrate feed to KRAFFT SPORT SPC, KRAFFT GROOV SPC or KRAFFT MAXBALANCE SPC. A supplementary feed containing stress-reducing substances such as Tryptophan, Magnesium and Vitamin B can also help. Many horses do not tolerate haylage or silage. Try feeding your horse dry hay for a period of 8-12 weeks and then assess the effects of that, if any. Disturbances in the intestinal flora can lead to chronic diarrhoea. Chronic diarrhoea may need a treatment with antibiotics but can often be remedied with the help of a probiotic and prebiotic supplement. Always contact your vet immediately in case of severe diarrhoea or a general deterioration in your horse or if your horse is running a temperature.

What are protein lumps or hives?

Protein lumps or hives (also known as urticaria) can be caused by a change in the horse’s diet. The lumps, measuring about 1-2 cm in diameter, are usually solid, hard and painless. However, lumps that appear across the saddle patch of the horse, where there is pressure, may become inflamed or infected. Such lumps usually become quite painful and may also secrete pus. The cause of protein lumps or hives is not completely understood but it is believed to be an allergic reaction to something new in the horse’s diet or environment. An accurate diagnosis would require a biopsy (i.e. the sampling and analysing of tissue) which can easily be performed by your vet. There are other skin disorders with similar symptoms and appropriate treatment can be given, it is important to establish what type of skin disorder the horse is suffering with. The lumps usually disappear by themselves within a few weeks. In some cases, however, the lumps remain and eventually become calcified. Should the lumps not disappear by themselves, it is worth trying a local or general corticosteroid treatment. Should this not help either and the lumps are inappropriately located, they may have to be surgically removed. If the lumps become inflamed or infected, a local or systematic treatment with antibiotics and corticosteroid will be necessary. Avoid sudden feed changes. Ask your vet for advice.

How should you feed a horse with laminitis?

The most common form of laminitis is usually triggered by a high intake of carbohydrates (in particular, water soluble carbohydrates). This disturbs the microflora in the large intestine of the horse. Laminitis can also be triggered by, for example, another disease, metabolic dysfunction, medication, foaling complications, stress, etc. Large amounts of soluble carbohydrates can be found in cereals (in the form of starch) and grass regrowth. Remember that fresh grass may still be growing in the autumn. Laminitis was previously thought to be triggered by too much protein. Despite protein not being the only trigger for laminitis, it is probably one reason for why certain horses get laminitis. Feed rations containing insufficient amounts of plant fibres are not conducive to the digestive system of the horse. Fibres are essential for the maintenance of a good intestinal flora and energy use. The right balance between energy and protein is also of importance for the general well-being of the horse.

Try feeding your horse a relatively coarse type of hay (= lots of plant fibres) with a nutritional value that is not too high. This allows for the horse to consume a lot of forage – which will stimulate the intestinal flora. The rest of the feed ration should consist of concentrate feed. Make sure to meet your horse’s need for vitamins and minerals. Choose a concentrate feed that is high in fibre and low in starch. Try to maintain a regular feeding routine with evenly distributed feeds and feeding times. Dietary changes should be made very gradually and with great caution. A change of hay should take at least 14 days while a change from stable feed to grazing should preferably take even longer. Start by letting your horse graze for short periods of time while, at the same time, reducing its concentrate feed. Continue feeding your horse hay for as long as possible. One good way of doing this is to let the horse have its usual ration of hay in the stable before it is turned out on grass. Do the same in the autumn – especially if there is new grass growth in the winter paddock. Start by giving your horse hay, gradually increasing the amount of hay until it is time to start feeding concentrate feed.

Always contact your vet if you suspect laminitis. A horse with laminitis should be stabled on a deep bed of either wood shavings or peat moss. The horse should be given pain relief and if deemed necessary, be fitted with special supportive shoes or pads. A stronger digital pulse at the side of the vertebrae can usually be felt and the hooves often feel warmer than usual. Once the horse seem to have recovered from laminitis, it must be brought back into work very cautiously. Expect at least 6-9 months of convalescence before the horse regains full fitness again. Regular and proper hoof care by a certified farrier is paramount. Many laminitic horses need special supportive shoes which, in order to function properly, may require some extra effort and work by the farrier. The hooves of a laminitic horse are often of a poor quality and at risk of developing abscesses. Changes in the everyday life of the horse should be avoided, if at all possible. Dietary changes should be introduced gradually. Do not vaccinate or worm your horse the same week that it, for example, is going through a change of stable or feed. Several simultaneous changes may just prove to be too much for your horse, triggering another attack of laminitis. In the summer, avoid turning your horse out on grass at night and first thing in the morning. Only turn your horse out on pasture that has already been grazed and avoid pastures with spring grass growth. If you are able to identify what has triggered your horse’s laminitis then try not to expose your horse to the same trigger in future.

We still do not completely know why laminitis occurs and how exactly it should be treated but research has come a long way and is still ongoing. Ask your vet, farrier and equine nutritionist for advice on how to best manage a horse with laminitis.

How should you feed a horse with recurring episodes of tying up?

When a horse ties up, its muscles become damaged, particularly the muscles in its hindlimb. The extent of the damage caused is measurable by testing the blood. Muscle cells normally contain the enzymes AST and CK. When tying-up occurs, the muscle cells break down and the AST and CK enzymes leak into the bloodstream – resulting in a blood test with an elevated enzyme level. The level of the enzyme in the blood reflects the severity of the tie-up. Muscle cells contain myoglobin, a substance that absorbs oxygen from the blood and also, gives the muscles their red colour. It is the myoglobin from the damaged muscle cells that sometimes make the urine of the horse dark red during an episode of tie-up. This is usually evident 15-120 minutes after exercise and other symptoms are a short and stilted gait , unwillingness to move and the hindlimb muscles becoming hard and tense. The respiratory rate and pulse of the horse may increase from the pain of tying up. In severe cases of tying up, the horse may lay down, unable to get up again. The horse should immediately be allowed to rest and a veterinary surgeon contacted for examination and emergency treatment. In order to prevent further episodes of tying up, the following is recommended:

  • Regular exercise
  • Adjust the horse’s diet by reducing its intake of concentrate feed
  • Feed the horse plenty of forage in the form of good quality hay
  • Reduce the amount of starch-rich feed and introduce more fat and fibres in the diet
  • Avoid sudden changes in the horse’s diet and level of activity
  • Give optimised amounts of selenium and vitamin E
  • Make sure the horse is warm before and after exercise and also, in the field
  • In winter, the horse will not move around as much in its field so try and give it other forms of regular exercise
  • Ask your vet and equine nutritionist for advice
What oil should you give your horse, if any?

Several studies have demonstrated the positive effects of increasing the intake of Omega 3 in the feed rations of horses. In grass, the ratio of Omega 3 is higher than the ratio of Omega 6. However, in the case of concentrate feeds, it is completely the opposite. For this reason, it may be beneficial to add an oil rich in Omega 3 such as linseed oil. Oils absorbed in the intestines of the horse will provide it with an energy boost and make its coat shinier. Soybean oil or linseed oil are good alternatives. The use of paraffin oil is beneficial for the relief of constipation. It is not a absorbed in the intestine and just passes through the horse, making its faeces softer.

Is glucosamine good for the horse's joints?

Glucosamine is a carbohydrate molecule that helps the formation of joint cartilage and synovial fluid while at the same time, inhibiting the breakdown of articular cartilage. There are a number of glucosamine preparations available for use in horses: Intra-articular injection (in the joint), intra-muscular injection (in the muscle) and glucosamine feed supplements. Glucosamine and hyaluronic acid (molecule found in the horse’s synovial fluid and articular cartilage), chondroitin sulphate (molecule found in the articular cartilage) and MSM (anti-inflammatory agent) have shown to have a positive effect on the horse’s stride length and ability to exercise. However, you should give it at least 3 months before assessing the effects of adding glucosamine to your horse’s diet. Horses that have shown to benefit from these type of preparations ought to have them on a regular basis. No side effects have been documented or reported.

How should you feed a horse that suffers with anxiety?

Anxiety in a horse may be caused by many things such as pain, its natural behaviour being restricted by the environment it is provided with, not enough forage, not enough mental stimulation, not enough time outdoors/exercise, not enough rest, stressful exercise and demands that well exceeds the horse’s ability, etc. Anxiety in horses is displayed in many different ways. Stereotypical behaviours include crib biting and weaving. As a result, the horse may self-release its own ‘painkiller’ substances, i.e. endorphins and enkephalins. These make the horse feel less pain but will also make it quieter and decrease its stress levels. Many researchers believe that the horse can become ‘addicted’ to its stereotypical behaviour as it makes the horse feel better – which renders it even more difficult to stop the behaviour despite having successfully identified and removed the actual cause of the behaviour. Other symptoms of anxiety include diarrhoea, sweating, unruliness, spookiness, apathy, etc. To lessen the anxiety, it is important for the horse to be kept healthy and pain free and that it is correctly exercised at a level that matches its ability. Other key factors include its environment, stable routines, feed rations, rest, exercise and access to the outdoors. A high intake of starch and oats make many anxious horses feel worse. Hence, it is recommended to reduce the amount of starch and oats given. Instead, choose an oat-free feed for your horse. A supplement containing Tryptophan – Magnesium + B vitamins is believed to help the more severe cases of anxiety. Ask your vet and equine nutritionist for advice.

How should you feed the older horse?

Many older horses manage to eat the same type of feed as younger horses but because of a slightly reduced nutrient absorption in older horses, an extra 15-20 percent of energy and nutrients is usually required, depending on the horse’s ability to maintain a healthy weight. Changes in feed should be made with caution and over a long period of time. If the horse has problems chewing because of dental problems and/or temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (jaw joint dysfunction), suitable feeds to give the horse include soaked lucerne (alfalfa), beet pulp, oil, soaked concentrate pelleted feed, MASH and cooked linseed. It is important to adapt mineral and vitamin supplements to the horse’s forage feed – and to give it an adequate amount of vitamin E and selenium. As forage feed, a high-quality nutrient-rich early harvest hay or haylage is recommended.

How should you feed a horse suffering with dental problems, periodontal disease (tooth loss), old age or injuries?

Horses replace their deciduous teeth with permanent teeth around 2.5 – 5 years of age. Symptoms exhibited during this time vary from horse to horse with some having greater problems than others. Some horses have problem chewing or they might get a raised temperature or become sensitive in and around the mouth. Older horses may lose their teeth or get an irregular bite with jagged sharp teeth that complicates chewing. Temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (TMJ) may further complicate the chewing. The older horse also has an increased need for nutrients. A fractured jaw, for example, can also lead to a transient impairment of the ability to chew. Whether the problem is related to the horse’s teeth or jaws, it is essential for the horse to have a sufficient intake of fibre and nutrients. A basic forage feed consisting of soaked pellets of lucerne (alfalfa) together with a pelleted concentrate feed (also soaked) and possibly also, a supplement of minerals, either in soaked pelleted or liquid form, would provide the horse with the nutrients it needs. Older horses normally require up to 15-20 % more feed than younger horses and feed rations should therefore be measured according to age. A vet with training in equine dentistry should check the teeth of your horse at least 1-2 a year. Older horses and horses with an irregular bite may need to have their teeth checked more regularly. The vet will assess your horse and draw up a treatment plan.

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