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April 2018 - Amputations & Neurological Conditions

Join us this month as our expert, Dr. Barrie Grant, joins the forum to answer your questions concerning neurological conditions in the horse. Dr. Grant will also be available to answer any questions related to amputations.

Click here to read this month's questions and answers.

Nutrition for the Horse

  1. My 3-year-old warmblood keeps getting scratches on all four of his white stockings. I have tried every topical medication and oral medications from my veterinarian, but nothing seems to be working. I am wondering, nutrition wise, is there something I can do for him?

    (View Answer)

    Does your horse have other white markings, possibly with a "sunburn" appearance? You might consider asking your vet about running some blood work on your warmblood also. I have had some success adding an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement to these horses, which seems to improve their general skin health. Also, I'd pay particular attention to keeping his feet dry: critically evaluate his pasture/turnout, and see if there are any ways to keep his feet more dry. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Ilsand, SC

  2. I was wondering if Vitamin E supplementation helps a horse's immune system? I have a 3-year-old warmblood that has four white stockings. He constantly gets scratches. I am wondering if it is diet related, grain, hay, etc.? Would it help to give him Vitamin E and an Omega-3 supplement? Also, are there any grains that you know are allergy free? 

    (View Answer)

    I'll answer your last question first: in short, it is very difficult to "prove" a grain to be an allergen to an individual horse. As a consequence, food allergies in the horse are poorly documented, but it's reasonable to assume that if grains are true allergens, potentially all of them could be culprits. With all that said, I have had a fair amount of success supplementing horses under my care with Omega 3, which seems to generally improve immune function and skin/hair/hoof quality. Vitamin E could also be beneficial for your horse. However, not all of these products are created equally. I can't mention any by name here, so I recommend you talk to your veterinarian about products they have tried and had success with, particularly in regards to bioavailability. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  3. I was thinking of using a continuous dewormer for my 15-year-old gelding in spite of paste deworming 3Xs/yr. I live in the mountains of Colorado and our snow doesn't melt until May. He currently gets moderate numbers of strongyles on Fecal Egg Counts. What do you think of a continuous dewormer?

    (View Answer)

    My short answer is this: I am not a proponent of continuous deworming in the horse, without any qualifications. Specific recommendations I'll refer to your veterinarian, because a deworming program depends on the following factors when I am designing a program for my clients:

    1) Health status of the horse

    2) Environmental factors---temperature, humidity, etc

    3) Pasture situation/stocking density

    My personal opinion is that continuous dewormers are based on an outdated theory that a horse's GI system should be "free" of internal parasites. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the maintenance of a low-level population of parasites can actually be beneficial to the horse. For more specific advice, I would refer you to the AAEP Guidelines on deworming of the horse, and most importantly the advice of your veterinarian. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC


  4. I have been feeding my 23-year-old easy-keeper Quarter horse approximately 1 lb. of a senior feed in addition to good quality grass alfalfa mix hay daily. I've been feeding the pelleted feed for the additional vitamins and minerals it provides however, I would like to discontinue the pellets since they are made with GMO ingredients. I do not feed any grain. Will she get enough nutrients from her hay and pasture alone or should I consider adding a multivitamin supplement? I also feed her a seaweed micro-nutrient supplement and probiotics daily.

    (View Answer)

    Great question! In my opinion, your horse will get along just fine on good pasture/good hay alone for quite some time. However, I think an important caveat is this: in a natural environment, the horse has a wide range of plant species on which it can graze. In most of our managed pastures, however, there usually is a predominance of only a handful of species. It is a reasonable supposition to make that, eventually, a horse grazing just these few plant species may develop a trace mineral/vitamin deficiency. Therefore, I'd talk to your veterinarian about predominant grass species in your pasture/area, and talk about adding a vitamin/mineral supplement. Reece Myran, DVM, Longes Island, SC

  5. I have a healthy 2-year-old that is currently receiving a healthy grain, but I want to switch to a feed with higher protein. Will that affect his temperment?

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    Anecdotally, a person will hear things along the lines of "higher protein will make a horse hot". In my experience, however, protein percentage doesn't play much of a role in a young horse's temperament, within reason of course. For a healthy two year old, there is a range of protein content that I would consider acceptable, mostly depending on his current size, projected adult size, and breed. Somewhere in the range of 12% to 16% is acceptable. Talk to your veterinarian and get their specific recommendations. If your horse were under my care, I would base my recommendation on how "growthy" your 2-year-old appears (i.e., how much filling out of his body does he still have to accomplish). Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  6. I have been told to use psyllium products monthly for colic since I live in Florida. I have miniature donkeys. Since they were originally desert animals, why would they need this type of product? 

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    One of the main reasons psyllium has been recommended to you is that it is commonly used as a routine treatment for the clearance of ingested sand from the GI tract. 

    When horses (or donkeys) graze, especially in the southeast, they can sometimes ingest small amounts of sand. Over time, that sand can accumulate to the point where there is a serious problem for the animal, in some cases necessitating colic surgery. 

    Since donkeys are browsers in addition to grazers, I have not personally seen many cases of sand enteritis in donkeys or mules. However, feeding psyllium has no downside to the animal. While it may not be necessary in every situation, I find myself recommending psyllium usage more and more: my overriding reason is that I have seen how serious sand accumulation can be when it grows to a significant amount. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  7. Is it worth giving a joint supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin to a 6-year-old Quarter horse that shows joint changes in hocks?

    (View Answer)

    To start with, I'd reiterate a point I made in an earlier question---that is, the amount of scientific research relating to your question is still fairly limited.

    That being said: a 6 year old with pathology already visible on hock radiographs has a long life ahead of it. Hopefully, glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation could delay/modify that pathologic response, and help the horse's quality of life.

    Even though the science it limited, I feel confident in saying that supplementation would not do the horse any harm. I have seen enough positive results in my practice to recommend starting supplementation. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  8. How can we help horses with proper nutrition and supplements to prevent ulcers? Too many horses are receiving omeprazole. How can we prevent ulcers? 

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    I certainly share your concern over gastric ulcers, and try to manage my patients with ulcers using nutrition and lifestyle changes as much as possible. I'll share with you a few guidelines I like to keep in mind:

    1) The closer to natural behavior, the better. I try to increase grazing time, and identify any herdmates that may be "causing problems" with the other horses.

    2) The higher total percentage of the diet that is roughage, the better.

    3) Good scientific evidence has shown that adding legume forage (alfalfa, peanut hay, etc) to the diet can help in preventing/healing gastric ulcers.

    4) The total ration should be split up into smaller amounts and more frequent feedings.

    I hope these guidelines give you a good start. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  9. A recent study showed that joint supplements may not work on senior horses. What are veterinarians saying that we should do? Continue with supplements?

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    One potential problem related to senior horses is the possibility that absorption from the GI tract may be impaired, in comparison to a younger horse. As it stands now, a major problem to be overcome with oral supplements is this absorption hurdle. All that being said, there is certainly no harm in feeding your older horse a joint supplement. My best advice is to talk to your veterinarian, and get their opinion on your horse's overall condition, and degree of problems (if any) related to his joints. This would probably be the determining factor in whether or not to continue oral joint supplements or not. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  10. I want to feed my horse more naturally. What does she need other than oats as far as a supplement? She is 7-years-old, ridden for pleasure several times a week and has no health issues.

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    If you want to feed your horse more naturally, I'd make a few suggestions:

    1) Most (if not all) of her caloric needs could be provided with forage (pasture +/- hay)

    2) A trace mineral supplement, available from nearly any feed company, should be added in to a forage-only diet.

    Beyond forage, you may need some additional calories. Refer to one of the previous questions for an idea on how to calculate energy requirements in the adult horse. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  11. Can you provide the pros and cons of feeding senior feed w/molasses?

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    For the most part, I don't see a problem with the addition of molasses to senior feeds. Most horses like the taste, so it can improve the feed's palatibility. An exception to this rule, for me, is a patient with a metabolic disease (primarily IR or PPID) in which I have heightened concern over their sugar intake. However, I generally find that the molasses in the feed is a much less important dietary source of sugar than, say, green grass. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  12. My horse was diagnosed with Insulin Resistance (IR) a couple years ago. I am feeding first cutting hay, enrich plus (low carb ration balancer) 2 cups per day. I also supplement with 2 oz of super meta balance powder. This winter my horse wanted to lick dust whenever he could and also would go lick the metal fence after eating the supplements. How does this sound to you?

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    Interesting question, and one that I get from my clients with some regularity. What body condition is your horse? Have you and your veterinarian had a reason to discuss repeating some blood work to see what his metabolic status is at this time? 

    Oftentimes, it is assumed that a horse trying to eat unusual substances (wood, metal, etc) must be lacking a certain trace mineral or essential nutrient. To my knowledge, this line of thinking has never been scientifically evaluated. However, it may be useful to consult with your veterinarian about any vitamin/mineral deficiencies that may be common in your area's hay supply, and get his/her opinion on your horse's overall body condition and metabolic status. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  13. What evidence is there to suggest chia seeds and flax seeds are healthy for horses? I have found human studies, but how do we know that a 1/3 cup of chia seeds per/day is an optimal load dose as some sellers of chia seeds suggest? What about a mix of chia and flax seed?

    (View Answer)

    I think you've hit the nail on the head with your first and second questions, and can be applied to many of the feed supplements and other products marketed to the equine consumer. I'm always grateful when my clients look at equine products with a discerning and critical eye!

    That being said, a decent body of work in many species has demonstrated beneficial effects of Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Below is a link to a study you may find interesting, relating to immune system function:

    In general, I find Omega-3 supplementation to be useful for several inflammatory conditions: in particular, I have found some horses with RAO or insect hypersensitivity to be easier to manage with medications when fed an Omega-3 product, such as chia or flax.

    As to your third question, I think a mix of chia/flax would be acceptable for your horse. Give your veterinarian a call and get their input on how to add these into your horse's overall ration, if the two of you decide it would be beneficial. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  14. I currently own a nearly 9-month-old Friesian/Paint colt that has been boarded since I purchased him in November 2013. As such, I am unable to measure his feed and keep an eye on his eating habits. He has absolutely no grazing area as the ranch is a small family operated facility with even smaller paddocks. I do graze him on lead for 1-2 hours when I am able to see him, but having spent most my life with horses that had large pastures or fields, I know that's not quite the same.

    Anyway, he had been doing okay prior to March 1st, but now I\'ve noticed that he\'s becoming thinner and thinner as the weeks go by, and I\'m able to feel his ribs when I touch his sides; they\'re even visible after brushing his coat smooth. As of this last week, his coat has become dull and there are dry spots that weren\'t there before, and can\'t be explained via any changes in weather or blanket wearing. How concerned should I be? He\'s going through another growth spurt, and yet he\'s never had this problem in past during other ones. There are quite a few inconsistencies at the barn, and I don\'t think he\'s being fed as much as he should be. How much should he be fed? He\'s currently 14.2h and the weight tape I have estimated him at 476lbs this week. He\'s up to date on worming and also vaccines. So I\'m stumped other than guessing he\'s not getting a balanced diet.

    Oh, I\'ve also noticed that he\'s extremely anxious until he\'s able to graze, and when he does graze, he does so with such fervor that his cheeks look like a squirrel, he takes up a defensive posture, and he is a complete monster before and after the process. He\'s always been a lawn mower, but never as if he\'s panicked like lately. Once he\'s had his fill, he\'s his usual self and easy to handle, listens to commands, and relaxes.

    As for his diet, he\'s supposed to be fed Alfalfa twice a day, with Omelene 300 grain topped by Farnam Grow Colt at night. From what I can see, he\'s only being given two small flakes morning and night, at inconsistent intervals. I\'m also not sure he\'s getting his grain every night even though I bag it myself and have it ready; there\'s a lack of professionalism that I fear is now affecting his health.

    Thank you for your time, and I hope you can point me in the right direction as to what to do!

    (View Answer)

    I have a couple observations to share with you from the history you provided.

    1) A 9-month-old Friesian cross needs quite a bit of caloric intake to maintain condition, especially at this stage of development. I would estimate his current energy needs at about 23 MCal (mega calories) per day. If you are feeding straight alfalfa hay, I would be aiming for about 14 lbs per day. However, I'd personally prefer to mix the alfalfa 50/50 with good quality grass hay if possible.

    2) I already share your concerns Ann. As hard as it may be to accomplish, I think you would be right to move your horse to a new facility. It's one thing to have a ration that needs to be improved: it's a whole other problem when you are unable to trust the caretakers of your horse.

    3) Weight tapes can be notoriously inaccurate, especially with growing colts. That being said, I'd expect a 9 month Friesian/Paint at 14.2 hands to weigh in the neighborhood of 650-700 pounds. 

    4) As you noted, it would be great if you could find a place for your horse to live where access to pasture was possible. Not only will your feed bill decrease, but you would probably find that some or all of his food-associated behavior would be corrected.

    I have had many of my own clients in this exact same situation, Ann. Sometimes, a new voice talking to the barn management is all that is needed to get changes to take place. I strongly encourage you to set up a time to talk to your veterinarian, and ask them to help advocate for you and your horse. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  15. Several years ago I did not like the body condition of my Paso fino.Our veterinarian pulled blood and sent it off to be tested. Dancer (my horse) is Insulin Resistance (IR). She now wears a muzzle spring through fall. We soak most of her grass hay in warm water 30-60mins. She also gets a small bucket of safe starch forage (bagged hay)with 2 cups of essential 32 for vitamions and minerals. I know exercise is very important, but this past winter she did not get much, but have since slowly started back. What else can I do for her? She had been on a product called DCARB from SmartPak.

    (View Answer)

    The situation you face with your horse is very common (especially in Pasos), so you are not alone. It sounds to me that you are doing a fine job of nutritional management of Dancer. I mostly have a couple questions for you:

    1) Is Dancer having problems currently? The biggest problem I face on a daily basis with IR or insulin dysregulated horses is laminitis---does your mare have a history of laminitis +/- founder?

    2) What was Dancer's body condition score (BCS) several years ago? What is it now? By that I mostly mean; were your dietary changes effective in reducing her weight?

    Nutritionally, it is important to limit/carefully control total energy intake (calories) and non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) in these horses. The feeding program you describe sounds like it does that well.

    An important point also to make is this: insulin resistance/insulin dysregulation is a dynamic condition in the horse---that is, an overweight IR horse that has an appropriate diet and exercise plan instituted and achieves weight loss can sometimes revert to insulin sensitivity. However, the opposite is also true---if the diet and exercise are not maintained, you can end up right back where you started.

    The best idea I can provide you is to talk to your veterinarian about setting up a schedule of examinations during different times of the year. With my patients similar to Dancer, I try to periodically run blood work to evaluate the degree of insulin resistance. Also, I carefully evaluate their feet for evidence of sub-clinical laminitis, and body condition score the horse. As you have found with Dancer already, these metabolic conditions of the horse require ongoing re-evaluation, and developing an ongoing management plan with your veterinarian is critical for success. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  16. My Quarter horse mare and gelding had been getting a flake of orchard hay morning and night, 1.5 hours of pasture during the day and a scoop of equine senior, one in the morning and one at night. The mare is 12 and the gelding was 16. The gelding was put down last November due to severe pain from ring bone, navicular and arthritis. We did eveything we could to make him comfortable. Now we are being told what to feed the mare from everyone and they all have different opinions. Some say meadow grass, some say alfalfa, some say orchard grass, etc. As far as grain goes, opinions are stable mix, safe choice, LMF, equine adult, etc. My mare is of Quarter horse breed that is in good weight with a shiny coat and ridden three times a week. My husband's new horse is also of Quarter horse and draft that needs to lose about 50 pounds. Our quandry is what is best to feed the horses in that we get all these different opinions on forage and grains?

    (View Answer)

    I'll start by sharing a couple principles I use when making ration recommendations:

    1) I'm more concerned with quality of feed than specific type;

    2) Any feeding program needs to be tailored to athletic usage and body condition score;


    3) The foundation of any ration is the forage source.


     1. where do you live? Where I practice, it is nearly impossible to obtain alfalfa (much less good quality), so that option is usually off the table for my clients. I would base your forage choice (i.e., hay) on what you can find locally that is of consistent, good quality. As a side benefit, that will be more cost effective as well. For a grass forage, a rough estimate of amount to feed is 1.5% to 2% of the horse's ideal body weight per 24 hours. When a horse is on hay only, this is a pretty easy calculation, but when pasture is factored in, quite a bit of variability enters the picture.

    2. Calculate how much energy your horse needs. I use the National Academy of Sciences 2007 NRC requirements when doing this for my patients. A QH mare, ridden 3 times a week, will need roughly 20 mega calories (MCals) of energy each day to maintain condition.

    3. How much energy is available from the hay/pasture? To answer this question, I strongly recommend to all my clients to periodically send their hay for nutrient analysis, or ask for a report from their hay supplier. In general, though, a good quality grass hay will contain about 0.8 to 0.9 MCal/lb of energy. 

    4. So, if your mare is about 1100 lbs, at 1.5% body weight per day, that would come to 16.5 lbs of hay per day. At 0.9 MCal/lb energy, she would be supplied with  almost 15 MCal of energy of the total of 20 MCal needed.


    5. As you can see from the above example, 75% of your mare's diet could be supplied just with good quality grass hay.

    6. To make up the difference, here are some principles I follow when selecting a concentrate feed: about 14-16% protein, 15-20% fiber, and 5-10% fat. The more frequent, smaller-sized portions you can provide throughout the day, the better. 

    Using these guidelines, I'd suggest talking to your veterinarian next. They will be able to help you in many ways that I am unable, starting with these questions:

    1) What is the condition of the horse's pasture?

    2) Are there metabolic/medical conditions present or suspected?

    3) Which forages are available locally, of good quality and reliable supply?

    Thanks again for the question, and please talk to your veterinarian next. There is so much individual planning that goes into a horse's ration that they are far and away the best person to help you figure out the specifics for you and your husband's horses. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC

  17. I am looking to put my 15-year-old easy keeper pony on a joint supplement and also a vitamin E supplement. He had a tear in his sesamoidean ligament, which happened about a year ago. He also has arthritis. I was wondering if you could suggest a good supplement for him?

    (View Answer)

    I'd like to start answering your question by stating up front: unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of scientific research in the horse as it relates to oral joint supplements. The following guidelines I'll present to you are based on that research, but please understand that there are not many firm "rules" regarding joint supplements at this time.

    Also, it probably isn't appropriate for me to specifically recommend any product by name on a public forum. However, you can use these guidelines to lead you in your own product research.

    Glucosamine: 8,000 to 10,000 mg per day

    Chondroitin: minimum 1,000 mg per day

    Hyaluronic acid (HA): 100 mg per day

    Avocado Soy Unsaponifiables (ASU): 1,000 mg per day

    Resveratrol: 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day

    Vitamin E: 1,000 IU per day

    There are a handful of products available that contain most of these compounds, and at (roughly) these levels. You will find differences of opinion among veterinarians in relation to which of these have the most clinical effect, so I'd encourage you to do some research, narrow down your ideas to a couple products, and talk to your horse's attending veterinarian about which specific product to choose. Keep in mind, you may consider feeding your horse a couple products simultaneously.

    Also, you will find out quickly in your research that the same rule applies as in the rest of life: you get what you pay for! In general, the better quality supplements with acceptable levels of necessary substances are more expensive. Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Island, SC