Ask Horse Journal: 08/02

Wheat-Bran Mash Rumors And Facts
I have heard that a weekly bran mash may not be a good thing. The thinking goes that we spend all our time trying to adjust feed gradually and then suddenly dump something new down their throats, which could, among other things, mess up the bacteria in the gut. They say that feeding bran with grain daily is pretty good, but the warm bran mash once a week may do more harm than good. What’s your take on this’

-Denise Bricker
North Carolina

It’s true that feeding a large amount of any unfamiliar feed has the potential to cause some intestinal upset, but claiming that a reasonable-size bran mash would actually cause harm is probably going a bit too far.????

If your horse develops bloating, excessive gas and/or diarrhea after a bran mash, it’s not being well-tolerated and you’re probably overdoing it on the size of the mash.?? If not, let him enjoy his special treat with a clear conscience.??

Bran is no more inherently good or bad than any other feed ingredient.?? If its higher protein and phosphorus content serves a function in your diet then including it on a daily basis is a good idea.?? Otherwise there is no particular reason to feed it daily.??

Hay contains a lot more fiber than wheat bran.??As a mash, wheat bran is a pretty good way to get a little extra water into a horse in winter, though. So, if it is well tolerated and makes you both feel warm and cozy, go ahead and feed it to your horse.


Alfalfa Or Not’
I feed one to two flakes of grass hay twice a day and one flake of alfalfa once a day. I also feed 1 ?? 13-oz coffee cans of Allegra Senior twice a day. I supplement MSM, Max Flex, Horse Guard and wheat-germ oil.??This horse has navicular but is not off now. She is also on Legend. She is primarily used for western pleasure.?? I have heard a lot of pros and cons in feeding alfalfa, but it was always the best feed when I was young. Am I on the right track’????????

-Judy Boerst

There are pros and cons to feeding alfalfa, as there are with any hay.??It may be too carbohydrate-dense for some horses prone to laminitis, at least in large amounts, and some horses also have behavior changes (more “fired up”), but these are the exception rather than the rule.?? The major problem with alfalfa is an imbalanced mineral profile.?? Alfalfa is extremely high in calcium and low in other key minerals, which means it has to be balanced carefully.??The ideal way to use alfalfa is as you are doing, mixing it with other hays that can benefit from alfalfa’s mineral profile.?? Exactly how well the combination works will depend on the type of grass hay you are feeding, but you’re definitely on the right track.


Temperament Change
I have owned a small 29-year-old Appaloosa gelding for three years. Since we are both “senior citizens,” our personalities, temperaments and energy levels have usually been a perfect fit.

Roscoe has always had what the stable owner calls “stud” qualities. However, in the last six months he has displayed more and more of these characteristics, i.e. raising a ruckus whenever another gelding goes by, kicking boards out of the pen, and getting away from the stable hands. Roscoe now has the reputation of being a “dangerous” horse. The owner thought he might have a tumor on his pituitary gland causing these symptoms. She had the veterinarian take a blood sample but the results were inconclusive. I have never read about this and wondered if you could be of help.

-Anita C. Harris

Although it’s rarely the only symptom present, and usually present as only later in the course of the disease, a temperament change can indeed be a symptom of a pituitary tumor, such as Cushing’s disease.?? He’s certainly in the right age group.?? If he has any of the other common symptoms such as excessively long hair coat, failure to shed properly, loss of muscle mass and strength, elevated glucose and/or insulin on blood tests, increased thirst/appetite/urination, the index of suspicion is even higher. Hopefully, further testing will shed some light on this.?? If your test results aren’t definitive, it still may be justified to try him on a few weeks of a Cushing’s medication or vitex supplementation.??This sounds like something you’d rather not try to live with, and the risk/benefit ratio of a trial course of treatment is tipped in favor of benefit.


Chronic Lameness Problems
My horse, Ed, has chronic hock problems.?? He appears to be fusing his hocks, and X-rays showed changes three years ago.?? Since that time, Ed is often a little off when we first start riding, but he quickly “warms up out of it.”?? My veterinarian stressed that he needs to keep working to support his hock joints and encourage them to fuse.

In July, a substitute farrier replaced a thrown left-front shoe.?? Unfortunately, the shoe he used was two ounces heavier than the one on the right front.?? Three weeks later Ed was three-legged lame.?? We eventually figured out what had happened and corrected it, but Ed did not seem to improve.??His right shoulder was swollen and had serious muscle knots and spasms.

We employed several treatments to help Ed heal — mild pain relievers, muscle relaxants, massage, acupunture and chiropractic work. Each therapy brought some improvement, but he never appeared totally sound on the longe line.??

After three months, it appeared that the lameness might be coming from his hocks, as it looked like Ed was dragging his right hind toe again.?? We thought this might be explained by his long layoff from real work, so we put him back to work slowly and lightly.?? We started with longeing, then longeing with side reins to work the back a little before we started riding.?? Then we rode first at a walk only, etc.

After two months of slowly increasing work, Ed was showing signs of lameness again. After a half hour of walk and trot work, his shoulder swelled — larger than it was the first time.??Luckily, the muscles don’t seem to be spasmed like they were, but Ed is definitely lame again.

I’m afraid to work Ed because that seems to aggravate his shoulder.?? But I’m also afraid to not work him because of the hocks.?? My instincts tell me that the shoulder injury is the top priority, so we have completely stopped working. Ed is presently only getting turnout on solid (indoor) footing — he is not allowed out into the mud.?? In addition the farrier has suggested that we pull Ed’s shoes. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

-Karen Cate

It sounds like the first thing you need for Ed’s problems is a good diagnosis.?? The shoulder problem sounds like a bursitis, but it’s lasting an awfully long time.?? These things do sometimes take up to a year to go away, but there is also the possibility that the bursitis is infectious.

This can sometimes happen even when there is no obvious wound or other way for the infection to gain access.

The first thing we would suggest is that your veterinarian get a sample of the fluid inside the swelling to check for infection by white count, protein and cultures.?? If you can get an ultrasound examination done, this could confirm if the swelling is coming from the bursa or if it is actually a joint problem, in which case you would need X-rays.??If it is “just” a bursitis, a local injection of corticosteroids or alternatively a counter-irritant might be in order.

Although the hock problems and shoulder problems could indeed be unrelated, the story of persistent waxing-and-waning lameness that is not well defined and is shifting in location is also reminiscent of Lyme disease in horses.??

If your horse’s hock X-rays don’t have the typical bone spurs and arthritic changes in the lower joint seen in hocks that are trying to fuse, we would be even more suspicious the two could be related.?? A Lyme titer on the blood and/or the fluid from the shoulder might be in order.


Hormonise Hope
I’m considering treating my 23-year-old mare with Hormonise/vitex and wondered if you followed any of the horses from your December 2000 article.??While my mare hasn’t officially been diagnosed, my vet seems to think she may be pre-Cushing’s, since some symptoms are there. The blood glucose is high-end of normal. She has unexplained mouth sores, loss of muscle, loss of appetite and is pretty lethargic.

-Mary Fetsch

We have kept track of several of the horses initially put on Hormonise, and several more after them, and they are doing well.?? It appears that if a horse has a good response to vitex supplementation initially, he will continue to do well, especially when you pay careful attention to also controlling the associated insulin resistance with the correct diet and supplementation. (For additional information on Cushing’s and vitex, see our December 2000 issue.)


Permethrin 10 Repels Mosquitoes
Peak season for mosquitos and mosquito-transmitted diseases, including all the encephalitis viruses, is upon us. Nothing works 100% as a repellent/insecticide, but we’re fortunate in that permethrin is approved for horses and is also one of the most effective mosquito repellents out there. It will also help repel ticks.

Most commercially available equine sprays are a mixture of the less-effective pyrethrins with permethrin. You can save a lot by getting a concentrate called Permethrin 10, which may be available through your farm/livestock-supply dealer or you can find many dealers by doing an Internet search for “permethrin 10.” Just 1.5 ounces will make a gallon of about 0.1% permethrin.

For heavy mosquito problems, you can mix it up to 0.5% concentration, which is 7.5 oz. per gallon of water. The average price is about $35/quart, although you can also get it in gallon sizes or smaller containers. We got about six hours of protection when we used it. Spray all exposed skin well. It can also be sprayed on turnout sheets.


Rotate Those Dewormers:
Ivermectin, Moxidectin Resistance Emerging

In addition to their effectiveness against larval life stages, one of the greatest appeals of the powerhouse deworming drugs ivermectin and moxidectin was that parasites didn’t appear to become resistant to these drugs.?? That may be changing.??

A December 2001 article by Dr. M. Wooster, Veterinary Health Research Pty. Ltd., New South Wales, and one in 2002 by Dr. S. Ranjan from Ft. Dodge Animal Health, reported the existence of resistant strains of the nematode stomach worm, Haemonchus, in cattle.?? The parasites showed decreased sensitivity to both drugs, although the resistance to moxidectin is slower to develop.

Haemonchus does not parasitize horses, but the major equine parasites are also nematodes, so the potential for developing resistance may be there.?? For now, the take-home message is vigilance.??Even most rotation deworming programs rely heavily on ivermectin or moxidectin. If you suspect your horse shows signs of parasitism, get a fecal count.


The Lure Of Manure
It’s decidedly unappealing to us, but all animals do it: eat manure. Some even eat their own feces. We tend to think of manure as nothing more than a pile of bacteria, but it’s believed that many animals “recycle” protein and other beneficial nutrients that escaped digestion by eating feces. There’s actually more to it than that. As a matter of fact, eating manure can provide many nutrients — not that we’re encouraging the activity, of course.

Manure can’t substitute for high-protein feeds like soy or alfalfa, but it can be a source of highly digestible protein. It’s been shown that when a diet of poor-quality or insufficient protein is fed, rabbits can maintain a normal protein status if they eat their feces.

Manure also contains minerals and electrolytes. Some of these are actively excreted by the intestinal cells and in the digestive fluids, like saliva and bile, while others are present in the foods but escape absorption. In some cases, the minerals in manure are more available for digestion than they are in the original diet. Animals with colon problems that result in diarrhea lose tremendous amounts of salt, and eating the manure is one way of getting it back.

Fecal matter is also a source of B vitamins. Studies of B-vitamin levels in intestinal contents have shown significantly higher levels of B vitamins in there than were present in the original diet. The source is the intestinal organisms.

Manure is also rich in volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which are produced when the intestinal organisms break down fiber. They’re absorbed across the lining of the cecum and colon and carried to the liver where they can be converted into either glucose or fats. Absorption of VFAs occurs in the large intestine, but significant amounts are still found in the feces, especially with high-fiber diets.

The very idea that manure is loaded with bacteria makes most people think it isn’t something any creature should eat, but the fact is the bacterial levels are one of the most beneficial aspects.

Bacteria inside the intestinal tract are essential. A thriving population of the correct types of bacteria is needed to convert complex fiber to VFAs the horse can utilize as energy sources. Equally important is that these symbiotic bacteria create conditions that are unfavorable for pathogenic bacteria like salmonella or clostridia to multiply. They also have proteins and glycoproteins that serve as gentle immune stimulants to keep the local immune defenses on the alert but without creating any inflammation or disease.

A foal’s intestinal tract at birth is sterile. However, this begins to change the moment he puts his mouth to the ground or his mother’s udder. Even the cleanest environment contains countless numbers of bacteria, most harmless, some actually beneficial. The foal can probably obtain all the bacteria he needs from the environment without eating manure, but the instinct is strong.

So, if your foal or weanling eats manure, don’t panic. The drive to do this will pass as he matures and his intestinal bacterial population becomes well established. However, if the manure eating is excessive, especially if the foal isn’t thriving, check to be sure his diet contains adequate levels of all nutrients. When manure eating is accompanied by diarrhea, ask your vet about checking for parasites or pathogenic bacteria in the manure and consider using a probiotic.

Manure eating is definitely far more common in youngsters than adults but some adult horses will indulge in this, too. Stall confinement seems to make some adults eat manure. Whether this is from boredom or reflects a dietary insufficiency isn’t clear. Horses with intestinal upset of any kind, or diarrhea, may also eat manure in what is probably an instinctive effort to help establish balance in their intestinal tract.

If eating manure is an isolated event for your horse, don’t be concerned. If it is a regular habit, or if a horse that hadn’t previously done this starts to eat manure regularly, talk to your vet about checking for a possible cause.

Also With This Article
Click here to view “My Horse Eats Dirt!”


Cold Water and Hot Horses
You’ll see the precautions every time summer rolls around: Don’t let your horses drink cold water. Don’t hose them off with cold water.??Nonsense.

Horses suffering from heat exhaustion aren’t only hosed with cold water but are also packed in ice when possible and even have ice packed into their rectums, if necessary. Cold water will not put your horse in shock, stop his heart or give him a “heart attack.”

Your horse likely reacts to an icy cold hosing the same way you do if you jump into the ocean when the water is cold. It momentarily “takes your breath away” but doesn’t do any real harm.??A good comparison is also what’s similar to what feels good to you when overheated.?? Sponge his head liberally with cold water and hose the legs/chest with cold water.?? Cool-to-tepid water will be more comfortable for whole-body use.?? Continue the bath until the runoff water has cooled down.??

Drinking cold water will not founder your horse or cause colic, although it may give him temporary stomach discomfort. The discomfort will disappear as soon as the water is warmed by heat transferred from the interior of the body.?? You can avoid it entirely by not using extremely cold water but your horse will prefer, and should have, cool rather than warm water after work on a hot day.


Magnesium and Pain
Horses that are irritable, touchy or tend to stay tense all over often respond to magnesium supplementation, as insufficient magnesium results in irritability of the nerves and muscles. However, research suggests magnesium can also have a direct effect on pain:

• Preoperative administration of magnesium to humans significantly decreases the need for strong analgesics/narcotics postoperative.
• Magnesium in combination with morphine increases the pain-relieving effect.
• Both tension headaches and migraine headaches that don’t respond to drug treatment will sometimes respond to magnesium.
• Before the advent of more modern drugs, magnesium sulfate was widely used intravenously for minor surgical procedures on horses.??It produced both a sedative and an analgesic effect.

The exact mechanisms by which magnesium can influence pain are being studied, and it’s not a substitute for anesthetics and analgesic medications. However, when magnesium status is inadequate, it apparently can result in a lowered threshold for both acute and chronic pain.

Most equine diets are adequate in terms of total magnesium intake. However, calcium can interfere with its absorption to the point inadequate magnesium absorption can result. The more hay the horse receives in comparison to grain, the greater the risk. Check your horse’s total calcium vs. magnesium intake. The calcium:magnesium ratio in the total diet should be 2:1. If it’s not consider a magnesium supplement.