Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.
Below you will find Part 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: How do I go about planning the proper diet for my laminitic horse?
By Jennifer A. Wrigley, CVT
A laminitis diagnosis can be a life-changing event for both a horse and an owner. And when it comes to dietary changes for laminitic horses, owners might not know where to start.
Ultimately, properly feeding a horse with laminitis boils down to the answers to four important questions:
1. Are you feeding the correct food?
Make sure you’ve got the correct hay and, if needed, concentrates for feeding a laminitic horse. This is especially important if the laminitis is related to a metabolic condition, such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
Before choosing a concentrate, check its digestible energy (DE, or calorie) content. Since overweight horses don’t need extra calories, horses with laminitis or EMS should not be fed concentrates with high digestible energy content. Instead, consider a ration balancer pellet or a reduced calorie concentrate that provides the horse with required daily protein, vitamins and minerals without adding excessive calories.
Similarly, choosing a concentrate for insulin-resistant laminitic horses requires careful consideration. Avoid feeding concentrates high in sugar and starch; rather, consider a commercially available feed designed to have low nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC, which includes simple sugars, starch and fructans) concentrations.
When selecting a forage, aim for a hay with lower NSC values. While average NSC values are readily available for different types of hay, they are only estimates. The best way to ensure hay is suitable for your laminitic horse is to have it analyzed.
Some owners soak hay in an attempt to lower the NSC concentration. If you do, soak it for 30 minutes in hot water or 60 minutes in cold water. A word of caution. Remember that soaking not only removes NSCs from hay, but also removes valuable nutrients.
2. Are you feeding the correct amounts of feed and hay?
Once you’ve selected the appropriate concentrate and forage for the laminitic horse, it’s equally important to ensure you’re feeding the right amount.
Most feed bags provide minimum recommended feeding rates that are designed to assist owners in knowing how much feed to offer in order to provide daily requirements. Feeding below the recommended rate may lead to nutritional deficiencies.
It’s important to weigh concentrates before feeding them and not rely on the “scoop” or “can” measuring system. While horses are often fed by scoops rather than pounds, this approach is imprecise since different feeds have different densities. Imprecise measurements can be detrimental when feeding a horse requiring a very specific diet, like those with EMS or laminitis.
The average horse will consume about 2% of his bodyweight daily in forage. While this might be acceptable for a horse on a maintenance diet, horses that need to lose weight — like many EMS and laminitic ones — require much less than that.
These horses should be fed 1.2% to 1.5% of their bodyweight in hay and grass daily (for a 1,100 pound horse, that amounts to 13-16.5 pounds of hay daily). Avoid feeding less than 1% of a horse’s body weight in forage per day, as this can lead to digestive disturbances.
Weighing hay is important for EMS and laminitic horses, as flakes vary in weight. A digital fish scale works well for weighing both hay and feed.
3. Do you have the tools to use if you are restricting feed, hay and grass?
When it comes to feeding for weight loss, it is beneficial to feed small meals frequently throughout the day to prevent long periods without access to food and water.
But even then, some horses “devour” their food as quickly as their caretakers supply it to them.
4. How will you monitor weight loss and gain?
Once an owner has formulated an appropriate diet and has the tools to restrict feed intake, the next step is to determine how to monitor weight loss or gain.
The most accurate way to monitor bodyweight is to use a livestock scale, although not all horse owners have access to these devices. Fortunately, there are other options, such as a weight tape. Measurements and body condition scores should be performed at least once a month and adjustments in feeding made if the desired results are not achieved.
When it comes to helping a laminitic horse get on the road to recovery, make sure you know what type of feed your horse is being fed is imperative. Formulate an appropriate feeding plan based on your horse’s needs, then stick to it as the results might not be instantaneous.
Jennifer A. Wrigley is the director of nursing for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center Equi-Assist Home Care program.
Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine).
Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.
Click here to read Part 1 of the April 1, 2019 installment: Can thyroid concerns lead to poor hoof quality?