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Equine Nutrition

Equine Nutrition

  1. What is the proper placement to measure the heart girth on a horse for weighing them? I see several different ways to do it and want to make sure that I am accurate. (View Answer)

    Heart girth circumference, as a way to estimate weight of horses, has been used for many decades.  It is inexpensive and easy but is not always accurate.  What weight tapes are good at is monitoring change.  A tape may say that your horse is 1000 lbs when he is actually 1100 lbs, but if he gains 50 lbs the tape is very likely to reflect that change accurately.  Consistent placement and consistent pressure are the keys.  Place the tape immediately behind the withers where the very last hairs of the mane emerge and immediately behind the elbow.  Some tapes have a tension measuring device built in to the tape and these can help with consistent pressure between measurements. Alison Cornwall, DVM, Middlesex, Vermont

  2. I have a 17-year-old rescued Arabian gelding that I can’t seem to get weight on. He’s on Nutrena perform and Smartpak's calm and soaked alfalfa. He gets very anxious when he’s not with the herd. Is there something else I can give him to put weight on him? He’s in very light exercise and out 24/7 with hay and grass all day long. (View Answer)

    I suspect this answer is not what you are hoping for. You probably need to make an appointment with your vet. It would be helpful to submit a fecal sample for a fecal egg count before your vet comes so that you two can discuss the results at the visit. You veterinarian will want to, at a minimum, 1)  make sure your horse really is 17-years-old.  2)  Calculate the calories your horse is getting based on the pounds consumed of each of the feeds your are giving (obviously you can't weight the grass) so have your feed tags and amounts of both the SafeChoice Perform and Alfalfa.  These weights should be dry, not once the feed is soaked.  Your vet will also discuss how much of the feed he is offered your horse actually eats.  3)  Rule out parasites as a problem.  4)  Examine the oral cavity.  5)  Discuss history in detail including history of diarrhea, muscle wasting, any other signs of illness.  6)  Perform a complete physical exam most likely including a rectal exam.  7)  Discuss bloodwork for Cushing's, a basic CBC and Chemistry panel, and possibly Vitamin E and Selenium testing.  8)  Discuss gastric ulcers pending exam and history.  


    Assuming that your horse has no underlying medical issues and is receiving the appropriate quantity of feed, then your veterinarian can work with you to find a feed that is palatable, help you increase fat in the diet to as much as 10% total calories from fat, and ensure that the feeds you choose are in a form that your horse can digest (i.e. "pre-chewed" or pelleted if your horse's teeth cannot grind feed well.)  Generally speaking, adding alfalfa pellets (soaked) and high fat feeds is an excellent start.  Many horses that are naturally thin will need 5-6 lb per day of pelleted feed even when on grass and much more in the winter.  In other words, you are already doing a lot right so your veterinarian probably needs to help you figure out what underlying condition is preventing your excellent plan from working.  Alison Cornwall, DVM, Middlesex, Vermont

  3. Is there a specific supplement to give a mare before foaling that would help prevent bone chips from occurring in the foal? (View Answer)

    There is some data that shows that mares that consume a diet with 30 PPM of copper were less likely to have foals that then developed OCD.  There is also some suggestion that low sugar diets may help.  Mare and foal feeds are almost always very high in sugar (usually 25-30% Sugar + Starch) and therefore, I almost never recommend them.  Solid nutrition with sugar and starch less than 15% seems to be the best.  Alison Cornwall, DVM, Middlesex, Vermont


  4. My mare is insulin resistant and has had three bouts of laminitis. She is on prascend and only gets grass hay that I soak first. I have had the hay tested and it is 13.99 % carbohydrate as dry matter and 11.99 % as received. Do you think I should continue to soak her hay and if yes, what supplements should I give her to make up for anything lost through the soaking? I do not feed her any grain. If you do recommend supplements, how do I find the best ones to use? (View Answer)


    You have raised and excellent point that is often overlooked. When hay is soaked, sugars leach out of the hay as do vitamins and minerals.  Proteins and fats do not.  When I have horses on soaked hay for long periods of time, I typically advise owners to double the ration balancer during that time.    


    All horses should be on a balanced ration and for the huge preponderance of horses high quality hay, a low-volume ration balancer and water meet or exceed their needs.  Examples of ration balancers include Triple Crown 30, Blue Seal's Sunshine Plus, Purina's Enrich Plus, Nutrena's Empower Balance, California Trace Plus, and High Point.  The idea is that you add 4 oz - 2.5 lbs of bagged feed per average-sized horse and this will provide all the vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids that your hay is likely to be deficient in.  


    Because of your concerns about insulin resistance, you want to choose a low-starch ration balancer.  I would recommend 1 cup or so of alfalfa pellets as a carrier and then something like a double-dose of High Point Grass or California Trace Plus pending what region of the country your horse resides.  This will ad negligible calories, but will help make up for what your mare is likely missing given her situation.  If you get hay that does not need to be soaked, you can back down to a single daily dose of ration balancer. Alison Cornwall, DVM, Middlesex, Vermont

  5. We have a 31-year-old toothless Arabian with Cushing's. A year ago, he was started on 1 tablet of Prascend a day. He was obese at the time but have since been able to get excess weight off of him. He currently weighs about 850 lbs and is about 14 hands tall. He receives (dry weight) 5 lbs of non-molasses beet pulp, 4 lbs of timothy pellets and 2 lbs of Purina Senior Active and 1 ounce of a fat supplement divided into 2 meals a day. All his feed is soaked to prevent choke. I have to travel more than an hour to get in a supply of timothy pellets but I have easy access to alfalfa pellets. Is there any health reasons to feed one over the other in a Cushing's horse? (View Answer)

    Generally speaking, no.  However, I recommend that you call the company that makes the timothy pellets that you are presently using and get sugar and starch values (ESC and WSC) for those pellets, and then compare to the alfalfa pellets that you can more easily  get.  Each batch of pellets will be slightly different so companies don't usually put this information on their label.  Many alfalfa pellets are within the 11% max WSC + ESC range that I recommend for Cushing's horses.  Keep in mind that you are feeding 2 lbs of Purina Senior Active, which has an ESC + WSC of about 16%.  If the alfalfa pellets are a bit higher than the timothy you presently give, you could replace that senior feed with something lower overall in sugar and starch and the total diet would remain the same.  One other option is to contact your local feed stores and see if any of them could get a pallet of the bags of pellets delivered closer to you.  Overall, the diet you are feeding your horse sounds considerate and appropriate.  Alison Cornwall, DVM, Middlesex, Vermont

  6. I just received a 3-year-old gelding. He is a very sweet horse but was neglected and left in a field, which left to his growth stunted. He is slightly over 14 hands tall. Is there any feed or supplements I can provide him to enhance his growth? (View Answer)

    Sadly, no.  By the age of 3, your horse's height is established.  Excellent ongoing nutrition will help him build muscle and help with his hair coat and hoof quality.  I always add essential amino acids for horses recovering from poor nutrition.  Get a high quality whey-based product (Nutrena, Kentucky Performance Products, and Purina all make one).  That and high quality hay, a ration balancer, clean water and a salt block, he should be on his way!  If he is thin or you have other concerns, please make sure to check in with your veterinarian. Alison Cornwall, DVM, Middlesex, Vermont