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.
This edition is sponsored by the W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine) of East Longmeadow, Mass.
Below you will find Part 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: Can an abrupt change in a horse’s diet impact hoof quality?
By Kathleen Crandell, PhD
Due to the risk of laminitis, horses should not be subjected to abrupt feed changes. The rapid ingestion of unfamiliar concentrates or other feeds high in starch can induce the painful, life-threatening disease that is characterized by the separation of the hoof wall from the coffin bone.
Aside from the potential for laminitis, the sudden addition of feeds rich in dietary starch may cause an alteration in the intestinal microbiome.
These microbiomes include bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that help digest fiber and maintain the health of the intestinal tract. That population of microbes forms early in a horse’s life and fluctuates based on diet, transport, stress, exercise, weight loss and disease state, among other factors.
In the case of sudden diet changes, the microbiome population will also change and not always in a positive way. Alterations can adversely affect digestive health and lead to diarrhea, colic and other forms of intestinal upset.
In an ideal world, horses would not be faced with unexpected diet changes, but certain situations sometimes call for impromptu dietary supplementation. Performance horses that require additional calories or other nutrients are often offered concentrates high in water-soluble carbohydrates with no adaptation period.
While many horses can tolerate the additional starch, a recent study recently demonstrated that horses that were offered a forage-based diet and then given concentrates did indeed “suffer the consequences,” much like humans do during the holidays.
The research team found the pH of cecal contents decreased in horses fed a high-starch diet and volatile fatty acid production increased. Further, the diversity of the intestinal microbiome decreased, meaning fewer species of microorganisms were identified following an abrupt, short-term inclusion of dietary starch.
For horses that are sensitive to dietary changes, consider offering a nutritional buffer to maximize the health of the intestinal microbiome. A time-released hindgut buffer helps minimize pH changes when diets are altered, like those observed in this study.
Kathleen Crandell, PhD, is an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research in Versailles, Ky.
Click here to read Part 1 of the March 1, 2018 installment: I know overfeeding can lead to hoof damage, but I get confused about how it can cause founder.