Ask Horse Journal: 02/05

Protein’s Real Role In The Diet
I recently purchased a four-year-old Thoroughbred off the track who has been out of work for the past six months. He was always fed pellets, but I’d like to switch him to a feed that his new pasture mate can eat also, since they will be turned out together 24 hours. The other horse he’s turned out with is 26 and eats about eight quarts of senior feed per day. They get as much grass hay as they’ll clean up, but the older horse isn’t interested.

My local feed company told me to switch to a custom blend they have that would be OK for both horses, so I wanted to see what you thought of it (see box at right).

I don’t want the Thoroughbred getting “hot,” but I’m told it’s not the amount of protein in sweet feed that makes them that way. He looks good now, but once he’s put in work I think he’ll need more weight. The older horse can’t afford to lose any weight either.

Can you tell me how much both horses should be get and explain what role protein plays in energy level’ I always thought the higher the protein the more energy, thus “hot” horses were kept on 10% protein.

In addition, the Thoroughbred is on stall rest for about a month due to an injury. How much should I cut his feed back, so I can still mix his medication in’ I’ve been gradually switching him from the pellets to the local-feed mix. I’ve cut him to down about 25%, but I’m thinking it should be even less. He’s eating his hay pretty well while in the stall, about three flakes morning and night.

Your situation presents a few challenges.?? First, there’s no evidence to support the idea that protein makes a horse hot. High-protein grain mixes are inevitably also very high-calorie grain mixes. It’s the high soluble carbohydrate content in the grain that’s believed to get them “hot.” It’s also true that some horses seem to get harder to manage when they are fed high protein alfalfa, but why isn’t clear.??However, alfalfa does have more starch, in the same carbohydrate form as grains, than grass hays.

In any case, 13% protein isn’t high.?? Young grasses are 20% protein, or higher.?? The protein and mineral profile in your mill’s grain is appropriate for both horses.?? The problem lies elsewhere.

For your Thoroughbred, we would substitute a high protein/mineral pellet mix for the grain and give him free-choice grass hay. Don’t worry about having him gain weight while he’s recovering from his injury.?? After he’s back in work, he’ll need grain. We’d build a supplement program to complement the mineral profile in your hay.?? Once that’s done, you can feed him as much of the balanced grain mixture as he needs.

Your older horse may be more of a problem. If the senior feed you are using was a processed feed, such as an extruded feed, he may not do as well on plain grains.?? The processing of senior feeds makes them more digestible.?? You also need to determine if his low hay intake is related to it being difficult for him to chew hay, to his simply liking the senior feed, or to the fact that this amount of senior feed could be providing such a large percentage of his calorie needs that he really doesn’t need much hay on top of that.??

If your older horse is not having trouble chewing or digesting whole grains, he should do fine on the mix your mill is suggesting.?? Otherwise, you may have to either go with two feeds or could even use a senior feed for your other horse.?? In many cases, what makes a feed “senior” is a higher fiber content, so that it can also substitute for part of the hay.?? This would work in your favor in avoiding your Thoroughbred getting overly hot from too calorie-dense a feed.


Fat Mare With Bad Feet
My 10‑year‑old mare and four‑year‑old filly are both Spanish Mustangs and easy keepers. I feed a combination of fescue/orchard grass hay. The mare gets 1/2 lb. Triple Crown Lite, plus Vita Flex Accel 2 oz., Super Bio‑Zin 3 oz. The filly was on 1/2 lb. Triple Crown 10% with 1 oz. Vita Flex Accel. I switched the filly to Triple Crown 30 supplement. The bag says to feed 1.5 lbs. daily, but I am only giving 2 oz. twice daily. I am not sure if I could be overdoing it with the 30% supplement and 10% feed with the filly. I have asked Triple Crown about feeding just the supplement, as your articles mentioned, but they won’t confirm your claim.

Can easy keepers, such as my mare and filly, receive all they need from the 30% supplement and my hay (see analysis in box at right)’ Would I be overdoing it by feeding the 30% supplement and the 10% Performance’

My mare suffered mild founder about a year or so ago. I put her on the Super Bio‑Zin this past spring and began having her trimmed using the Natural Balance System. Because she gets fat so easily, my vet took her off grain and just gave her Accel. But her feet chipped badly, I felt her diet must not be right so I put her back on Triple Crown Lite and her supplements.

Do you think it would be safe to switch my mare to the 30% Triple Crown Supplement with maybe 1/2 lb. of oats twice a day’ But could feeding the Triple Crown 30% supplement cause tying up in a horse with the high protein level’ I had read that the abundance of the protein (unused) in the system not being broken down can cause sore muscles or tying up.

I would like to do away with all the mixing at each meal. Her hooves have improved so much and she’s walking and trotting sound again, but I am afraid I might do her feet harm, knowing I can’t continue her on the Super Bio‑Zin after her feet have completely grown out of the damaged areas, which has now occurred.

I had also read that a good source of protein with much‑needed lysine is roasted soybeans. How would I locate this product, and would you recommend the Vita Flex Accel supplement along with the roasted soybeans for the extra protein and much needed lysine for a horse with hoof problems’

It took a bit of doing but we came up with a ration for your horses we think both you, and they, will like. With easy keepers, especially when there’s a history of laminitis, eliminating grain should be a priority. Your hay looks to be of high quality but has quite a few mineral imbalances that could have been affecting the hoof quality.

For example, not only was the total level of zinc too low but the hay is much heavier on manganese, which could have been competing for absorption. The calcium was borderline, magnesium high compared to calcium. Copper, selenium and iodine were problems, too. The total protein level in your hay is fine but you’re right, lysine may well be low.

To correct your major mineral balances, and give your horses a substitute for grain, we suggest you feed each about 12 lbs. of your hay with 1 lb. of beet pulp and 2 lbs. of alfalfa cubes or pellets per day. This is based on an estimated weight of 950 lbs. The alfalfa and beet pulp can both be soaked to an appetizing mash consistency (just add warm water and let sit about 20 minutes) and will fluff up considerably in the process. Feed all at once or split into two feedings.

To this we would suggest you add 1 lb. Triple Crown’s 12% protein and mineral supplement. We would also add 4 oz./day of Su-Per Farrier’s Formula from Gateway Products. This combination brings your trace mine rals into generous supply and corrects the imbalance of manganese to zinc. Total protein content of this ration is still around 12% and your lysine and methionine intakes should be good. However, just for the record, the extra protein that would come from feeding TC30 either in this diet or the former one, while unnecessary, would not cause sore muscles or tying-up.


Spirulina For Allergies
I liked your article on spirulina as a supplement for horses with allergies (December 2004).?? I have an older Appaloosa mare with moon blindness and recurrent flares of what I believe to be syncytial iridocyclitis.?? We’ve never been able to figure out what triggers Birdie’s acute attacks, and the only thing we have found that helps is an oral antiflammatory and topical antibiotic eye ointment with cortisone in it.??

One of the beliefs as to why Appaloosas tend to have the problem with moon blindness is that it’s an allergic reaction or an immune problem.?? I’ll ask my vet about giving Birdie spirulina, but I’d like to know what you think about it to help her.

You’re right that the precise mechanism behind moon blindness isn’t entirely clear, but there is some evidence that there is at least an autoimmune problem, meaning there are antibodies present against the horse’s own eye tissue.?? Although spirulina has anti-inflammatory effects, it also supports the production of the IgG class of antibodies, which are the same as those involved in autoimmune responses.??Using it on your mare could be risky.


Leaky Gut
I have a six-year-old Thoroughbred gelding with a sensitive stomach. He had bouts of gas, loose stool, and watery discharge for most of the summer. For the last six months I’ve had him on a diet of rice bran, 2 cups of organic oil sunflower seeds, Horse Tech’s Glazen supplement, and herbs prescribed by a holistic vet to address leaky-gut syndrome.

He seemed to do as well or a little better on this diet than the pellets and beet pulp he was on previously. Recently he had another colic episode, and I asked a veterinarian to perform a blood test for allergies. The result of the test was a lengthy list of positive reactions, which also included rice bran, beet pulp and orchard grass. I’ve removed the rice bran from his diet replacing it with wheat bran for the time being. He’s out on pasture all day, and our hay is a grass mix neither of which I can immediately change.

My questions are: How accurate are blood allergy tests’ Would you recommend having a patch test done for a more accurate reading’ Are allergy shots effective’ Most importantly, is it possible that the colicky behavior I have witnessed for the past three years might be due to allergies’

The holistic veterinarian explains that leaky gut leads to allergies due to food particles passing through the stomach lining and entering the bloodstream, overtaxing other organs that must try to filter it out. Does leaky gut have a name in the traditional veterinary medicine world and is it considered a valid diagnosis’

I’ve worked with several traditional vets that have been unable to help me find the trigger to my horse’s colic episodes, though I am certain they’re related to mealtimes. Last, I am researching a high-fat substitution for the rice bran as I love the mellow temperament and the muscle development my horse displays. Do you have any suggestions’

The term “leaky gut” means different things to different people. In alternative circles, it’s usually used to describe problems arising from presumed fungal (Candida) overgrowth in the bowel, treated by dietary changes, herbs, etc. In human traditional medicine, it describes any condition characterized by inflammation in the bowel and the bowel having reduced “barrier” effect. What can then happen is that bacterial endotoxins that would normally not be able to penetrate the bowel are absorbed in larger amounts, and proteins in food that have the potential to create sensitivity/allergic-type reactions come in closer contact with the bowel wall and induce food sensitivities.

It’s not correct that larger bits of food are actually absorbed into the body and filtered out by other organs. Even if they could get past the lining of the gut, there’s no way they could pass through the small spaces in capillary walls to be picked up by the blood. Alterations in the gut flora and changes in gut motility are common.

Patch tests aren’t practical for horses, but intradermal (just under the upper layers of the skin) injections of tiny amounts of antigen are sometimes used, and these tests are considered to be more accurate than the blood tests.

However, when blood-allergy testing turns up a host of positives it usually also means you will get many reactions on skin testing. The fact the horse reacts does not necessarily mean that those substances are causing the problem though. Longstanding gut (or lung) inflammation can cause a wide variety of reactions that will disappear when the underlying problem is treated.

It may well be that allergy to one or more food ingredients is part of the root cause of your horse’s problem, but at this time it would be impossible to determine which of the reactions were “real” and which not.

If your horse is having gas, loose stools, liquid discharge and now colic, your current approach isn’t working. Hay and grass can be as much of a problem as the concentrate portion of the ration. However, you can minimize that by making sure you don’t feed any hay that is even remotely off odor or “dusty,” to keep molds from this source out of his system.

If he hasn’t been dewormed with a larvicidal treatment of fenbendazole, use a double dose of the drug for five days, you should do that to eliminate any contribution to gut irritation from parasites. If tapeworms are a problem in your area, treat for these too by administration of one of the new praziquantel and ivermectin combinations about 10 days after the larvicidal deworming is completed.

A diet based on rice bran is already high-fat, but a high-fat diet only makes the horse fat. His muscles aren’t really larger, just have more fat covering them. If you need high-fat intakes to keep good weight on your horse, this indicates his utilization of the fiber portion of his diet is poor.

Fat only makes this worse, and many horses experience the bloating and stool changes you described when on high-fat diets. The horse is designed to thrive on a high-fiber, grass-based diet. The best thing you could do is get him headed back in that direction as soon as you can.

As long as he doesn’t show allergy test reactions to these ingredients, we would suggest you start him on plain whole oats, 1 to 2 lbs. total per feeding. To this, add 1.5 to 2 oz. (by weight) per meal of psyllium husk powder. Be sure you add enough water to the psyllium to turn it into a gel before mixing in the feed.

We would also add, per meal, 5 cc of Ration Plus, a very high-dose-live-bacteria probiotic such as 5 grams of Horses Prefer DFM-Eq Powder, 5 grams of L-glutamine, and 1000 IU of vitamin E in an oil base, such as from soft human gelcaps. If you want to keep the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acids from flax, it would be best to use a cold-pressed flax oil from a health-food store, or flax oil in gelcaps.

The reason for these changes, besides lowering the fat intake, is to simplify his diet and remove those seeds, grains and other ingredients, like yeasts in many probiotic products, that are highly likely to be involved in sensitivity reactions. You may be able to add these things back after his digestive problem is controlled, but you should do so one at a time so you can tell if any cause problems.

Psyllium is an excellent prebiotic, a “food” for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. It also tends to reduce bloating and lead to more formed manure. L-glutamine is an amino acid that intestinal cells require in large amounts. The E and flax oil are for antioxidant support.

If muscle bulk is a problem, consider starting him on Body Builder. The gamma oryzanol is also beneficial for the intestinal tract. If this doesn’t result in significant improvement in two to four weeks, you may want to consider a course of a colostrum-based product like Vita-Flex’s Rejuvenex. We think you’ll find that this diet has as much of a mellowing effect on him as the high-fat.


End Waste With Cooking Spray
Are supplements sorting out of your horse’s meals’?? Are you finding too much of them left in the bottom of the feed bucket’?? Try giving the grain a light coating of a cooking spray, like PAM, before you add powdered supplements.?? They’ll stick to the feed better, and there’s less oily buildup in the buckets, since you can direct it right where you want it and keep the amount to a minimum.??

Cooking sprays also come in handy for keeping recycled dosing syringes moving. A light spray on the plunger and inside the top of the barrel keeps them sliding easily much longer.


Zim’s For Horses
For years, we’ve recommended Zim’s Crack Cr??me for cracked or injured heels. It’s a human product, available in the pharmacy section. Now there’s an equine version. The new product was developed by the same company but has Canadian Willowherb added to help relieve redness and heat. It’s more economical, too, at $8.95 for six ounces. 800-544-3635.


Salt And Water
If you’re concerned your horse isn’t drinking enough water during these colder months???and using warmed water all the time is impossible?????try adding 1 to 2 oz. of salt to his feed. Salt will increase his need to drink.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!