Dr. Bray’s Corner

Equine FAQ: Nutritional Supplements

 

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Q: My horse is suspected of having a history of founder, and I am feeding a supplement that helps strengthen the hooves. She does not like the taste unless I mix it with something. I am looking for a feed that is low sugar and low starch to mix the supplement. Any recommendation?

If taste is the issue then the most common flavor enhancement or camouflage is something sweet. A cup of Integrity Lite is an option. Feeding a small amount of Integrity Lite With Molasses (there is also a Lite without molasses) will help disguise the bitter taste that is common with many OTC supplements or even medications. Integrity Lite No Molasses is a low starch, low sugar, no grains, high soluble fiber balanced formula. The starch and sugar (%ESC) contents on Integrity products can be found here.

Top dressing a small amount of brown sugar or salt or combination of both are other options. I understand there are those that may objective to the brown sugar option, but many do not understand the amounts of sugars and starch that already exist in a typical forage diet.

If your horse has laminitis and any rotation of the coffin bone you will need to exercise caution with the feeding and the exercise program; talk with your veterinarian. The OTC supplement you referenced is a source of Mg (magnesium) and Cr (chromium) and there is no science that these two minerals will strength a hoof made of keratin.

There is a fact sheet on Nonstructural Carbohydrates and also a fact sheet on Is Molasses Unhealthy? that are both listed on Dr. Bray’s Corner.

Q: I ride my horse 3 days a week for about an hour. Do I need to feed electrolytes to my horse daily during the summer?

Supplementing your horse with electrolytes will depend on several factors: diet, type of hay, other feeds, & supplements; is a salt block available & used; temperature and humidity; type of exercise, length and intensity; and horse’s fitness. If your horse is on a balanced diet and you are riding during the cooler part of the day, then for your question, no.

Commercial electrolytes are expensive and if you are feeding a balanced commercial feed mix, like Integrity, the formula will contain a minimum of 0.5% added salt (sodium chloride) and is balanced for key nutrients, potassium, calcium & magnesium, that are electrolytes. Some performance commercial mixes may contain 1% added salt.

Electrolytes are important for a number of body functions including fluid balance, muscle function and nerve function. Where there is water loss there will be electrolyte loss which includes not just sweat but also through the urine and feces. A balanced diet will replace the electrolyte with normal water loss but horse owners are not sure when that threshold of normal water loss occurs. If you have a horse that is worked or even stabled in a hot and/or humid climate then consider the overall nutritional management factors.

  • Feed a good quality hay; alfalfa is a good source of calcium, potassium, so considering the forage feeding guidelines, alfalfa at 25% of the daily forage is workable
  • Feed a commercial mix that is a balance formula, like the Integrity feeds
  • Always allow free access to water
  • Provide a salt block
  • Provide shade and a well ventilated stall

There is a heat index scoring system that has been around that provides an empirical guideline of when temperature and humidity are too much. I could not identify the original source of this Index so I apologize for not giving credit to the source.

The empirical formula, F° + %RH > 150, is the sum of the temperature (Fahrenheit, F°) and the percent relative humidity (%RH). When the total score is greater than 150 and the % humidity contributes approximately 50% of the total than the horse may be compromised in cooling. The numerical scores and guidelines are as follows.

Index Score Guideline
< 130 Heat loss should not a problem
> 150 Heat loss is compromised especially if humidity contributes more than 50% of the total score
150 – 170 Exercise with caution and observe your horse; electrolyte supplementation should be considered
> 180 little heat dissipation can occur; look for a better time to ride

If you decide you need to provide electrolyte supplementation, add to the feed or administer directly into the mouth in a paste form. I do not recommend adding electrolytes to water sources. Adding to the water does not allow control of the amount consumed and may adversely influence drinking. There are commercial preparations but they are expensive. A home recipe to consider is mixing 2 parts table salt and 1 part Lite salt; lite salt is a 50/50 blend of table salt and potassium chloride.

Guidelines

  • If you have concerns with temperature and/or humidity then provide the electrolyte supplementation 2 hours before exercise, every 2 hours during exercise and 2 hours after exercise. Obviously you will need to use your horse experience to make the best call. The amount will vary depending on the conditions as stated above. In general, horses not sweating excessively, administer 2 ounces per day of this mixture prior to exercise. Horses that are sweating in a hot and humid condition will need more; need 3- 5 ounces of this mixture in 2 – 3 doses.
  • If you are going on a trail ride for a couple of hours than administer 2 hours before and monitor the sweating and drinking to determine if an additional dose in needed a couple of hours after the ride. Be sure the horse is provided several opportunities to drink.
Q: My mare is 33 years old and weighs 950 lbs. and has lost many of her molars, otherwise she is in good health. She gets regular vet checks, vaccines, and worming. I have been feeding her hay/oat pellets and rolled oats soaked in water, along with Ace Hi Equine Aged Diet. She also gets a vitamin & mineral supplement and a weight gain supplement daily, and a psyllium maintenance dose monthly. She has thrived on this regimen. Just recently, she has eaten only the Ace Hi with supplements off the top of the soaked mixture. Can I feed the Ace Hi Equine Aged Diet as the primary source of nutrition with a smaller amount of soaked pellets and oats? If so, how many pounds per day?

Equine Aged Diet is a balanced formula and any other vitamin and mineral supplement is overkill. Adding oats actually cuts the nutrient-calorie and nutrient-nutrient ratio of the formula and is not necessary.

Feeding one to 1.5 pounds mornings and evenings would be a start for an aged horse that I assume is not active. The actual amount will depend on how much hay pellets and hay are fed. Continue to soak the feed and you should still offer small amounts of long stem hay even though her molars are gone. If maintaining body weight is difficult you can add fat with Integrity Rice Bran or liquid oil.

Q: I have a 22 year old quarter horse in good health that gets lightly ridden and still has plenty of energy. He is on Integrity Lite No-Molasses as a supplement to grass hay. He just had his shots and my vet is recommending a "ration balancer" as an additional supplement. I'd like your thoughts.

I do not support the current concept of ration balancers. Fundamentally, feeding a concentrated source of nutrients in one feeding and assuming those nutrients will be adequately processed, digested, and metabolized does not make biological sense relative to the function of the horse’s digestive system. The ration-balancers on the market consist of only selected trace nutrients, vary with individual products, and do not consider relationships/ratios with nutrients in the product or nutrients that were not included. There are no studies that support any advantage for a ration-balancer when compared to a balance feed-mix or a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Below is a snapshot of a previous written fact sheet on ration balancers.

Ration Balancers are feeds concentrated in protein, vitamins & minerals. This type of feed usually fed 1 – 2 lbs. per day, is not a major energy source and thus the horse depends on the VFAs from forage digestion. VFAs are an inefficient/lower energy source which is an important consideration with working horses’ whose energy requirements are above maintenance.

Balanced diets require a relationship of nutrients to nutrients and nutrients to energy. Bolus feeding a concentrate with excess nutrients, such as excess protein, vitamins & minerals, is not a balance approach. A “one feed fits all” bolus of nutrients also contradicts the established, known differences in energy and nutrient requirements relative to production or work level. A horse feed should be selected based on specific life stage or work level.

Excess/bolus dietary protein may…

  1. reduce efficiency of enzymatic digestion of protein
  2. adversely influence gut microbial population
  3. have an adverse effect energetically on performance
  4. have an adverse influence on growth
  5. lead to subclinical dehydration
  6. add metabolic overload to the functions of the kidneys and liver
  7. metabolically shift energy utilization to the cellular breakdown of excess protein
  8. increase wasted energy given off as heat
  9. adversely influence protein – calorie ratio balance

Protein daily requirements of adult horses range from 0.5 to 1.4 grams per pound of body weight. A pleasure horse has different nutrient requirements than a working horse, growing horse different than young adult horse, pregnant mare different than lactating mare, and so on. One also needs to know the feed ingredients that are providing the protein; label ingredient listing of “plant protein sources” is an outdated approach with equine product labeling.

One of the most fundamental principles in animal nutrition relative to protein requirements is that excess dietary protein translates to…

  • excess nitrogen that needs to be eliminated from the body,
  • and excess nitrogen is processed in the kidney,
  • therefore, the horse drinks more water,
  • thus, more frequent urination & urine volume,
  • and a stronger ammonia smell

Excess/bolus of dietary minerals may…

  1. adversely influence growth
  2. interfere with other nutrient utilization and absorption
  3. adversely influence nutrient – calorie ratio balance

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