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Helping a Horse Gain Weight

Dec 2019 - Weight Gain

Weight loss is a common concern among horse owners. Cold temperatures demand more energy for the horse to maintain body temperature and stay warm. It’s especially challenging for senior horses and young foals, who have a harder time maintaining body temperature. Other horses may lose weight if hay and/or pasture quality is poor and insufficient supplemental energy is consumed. Providing proper nutrition and exercise can help remedy loss of condition.

Cold Increases Energy Needs

Cold temperatures have the effect of increasing the amount of energy a horse burns to keep warm. It is estimated that horses have a lower critical temperature (LCT) of 30-50oF, depending on length of hair coat and general body condition. Below the LCT, a horse needs to burn energy to keep warm.

For every 10oF the temperature drops below LCT, a horse needs approximately 2,000 extra kilocalories (kcal) to maintain body temperature. Often, this can be achieved with an extra 2-3 pounds of hay. However, when rain and wind are factored in, this increase in energy quickly grows to more than that which can be supplied by hay alone. (Note that hay is the best option for warmth. Hay is fermented in a part of the hindgut called the cecum. Heat is a byproduct of fermentation, which helps the horse stay warm!) In this case, fat supplements are a great option to supply a lot of calories without a lot of bulk. For example, 1 pound of ULTIMATE FINISH™ 25 will provide approximately 1,700 kcal.

Body Condition & Weight Monitoring

When spring arrives, and throughout the year for that matter, it is important to assess body condition. We have a body condition score chart on the BUCKEYE Nutrition site if you need help assessing.

A weight tape, placed around the horse’s barrel, directly behind the shoulders as the horse stands square, is an excellent tool for helping to estimate weight and monitor change. Measuring is important. You will often see changes in a measurement before noticing changes visually. Weigh regularly – for example the first day of every month or each time the horse’s hooves get trimmed. Keep a log so you can track weight fluctuations and adjust the diet accordingly.

Diet for Weight Gain Basics

Forage, in one form or another, is the basis for every horse’s diet. Fiber needs to have some length to it – about 2 inches – in order to help food move through the digestive tract normally. For horses with dental concerns who may not be able to chew or consume hay, substitutes like soaked hay cubes, chopped forage and soaked beet pulp often work well. Forage should make up no less than 50% of the entire diet; ideally, it should make up 70-100%, depending on the horse’s needs.

An underweight horse will need to consume more calories than he burns in order to gain weight. Weight gain should be slow and controlled. Rapid weight gain with improper diet can cause problems, so it’s important to take your time and do it right. Forage alone may not have enough calories for significant weight gain, so grain concentrates and/or fat supplements can help.

In any case, to achieve an increase of one body condition score (i.e. from a 3 to a 4), the average adult horse needs to gain 44-50 pounds (NRC 2007). That amount of gain can take 30-60 days, so patience is needed. The amount of increased feed in the diet will depend on the individual horse, overall health and activity level. And, of course, any increases in feed should be added slowly to allow the digestive tract to adjust. Adding three or more feedings to spread out larger grain meals is a great option as well.

High fat grain concentrates, such as CADENCE™ Ultra and EQ8™ Senior, are ideal for encouraging weight gain. Supplements, such as ULTIMATE FINISH 25, are excellent for adding calories without adding a lot of volume to meals.

For horses with metabolic concerns, such as Equine Cushing’s Syndrome or Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), who also need to gain weight, a high fat, low carbohydrate diet is ideal. Select a grain concentrate with no more than 12-14% non-structural carbohydrates that contains 8-12% fat. For example, try SAFE ‘N EASY™ Senior or SAFE ‘N EASY™ Performance.

A supplement like ULTIMATE FINISH 100 provides fat calories with no carbs. Unlike carbohydrates, fat supplies calories without increasing insulin concentration. Hence the reason fat is a good energy source for horses with metabolic concerns. Pasture grazing may need to be limited with a grazing muzzle or turnout on a dry lot. Hay may need to be soaked to reduce dietary carbohydrates as well. Soaked hay, a high-fat, low carbohydrate grain ration, plus an additional fat supplement often suits these horses well. A qualified nutritionist can help you build the proper mix of feed and ensure nutrient needs are met.

Summary

Remember, it is important to ask why a horse may be thin to begin with. Is the diet properly balanced? Is it health related? Is the horse stressed (for example, is he being bullied in the paddock)? Have your veterinarian conduct a wellness exam at least once per year. Take stock of the horse’s environment and behavior – what may have changed? Contact one of BUCKEYE™’s expert equine nutritionists for help creating a diet that will help your horse safely gain weight.

 


References:
Dugdale, A., Grove-White, D., Curtis, G., Harris, P., Argo, C. 2012. Body condition scoring as a predictor of body fat in horses and ponies. The Veterinary Journal. 194(2): 173-178.

eXtension.org, Winter Care for Horses. https://articles.extension.org/pages/25673/winter-care-for-horses

Henneke, D.R., Potter, G.D., Kreider, J.L., Yeates, B.F. 1983. Relationship between condition score, physical measurements and body fat percentage in mares. Equine Veterinary Journal. 15(4):371-372.

National Research Council 2007. Nutrient Requirements for Horses, 6th Edition. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

Equine Cushing’s Disease (PPID) – What is it, and how does it affect my horse’s diet?

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Equine Cushing’s Disease, also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) is one of the two most common endocrine disorders diagnosed in horses. The other is Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). While PPID and EMS are completely separate conditions, nutritionists often make similar feeding recommendations for both situations. First, let’s define each condition.  

Alphabet Soup – What is PPID and EMS? 

PPID is a condition in which the pars intermedia – the center lobe of the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain – grows abnormally. This results in the overproduction of the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone). In turn, ACTH stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands, resulting in an abnormally high concentration of the hormone over time. 

Chronically high concentrations of cortisol in the blood can lead to issues such as atypical fat deposits, long hair coat (even in the summer time), suppression of the immune system and insulin dysregulation. Cortisol is a steroid hormone, and long-term exposure to steroid hormones can predispose a horse to EMS. 

When it comes to EMS, the primary concern is with insulin (a hormone) and glucose (sugar). The body keeps tight control of the amount of glucose in the blood. When glucose concentration rises, insulin provides a signal to store extra glucose in muscles and the liver. When a meal is consumed, insulin is secreted from the pancreas in response to sugars and starches in the food. With EMS, an abnormally high concentration of insulin is needed to control the amount of glucose circulating in the blood. 

Chronically high concentrations of insulin, such as that seen with EMS, are known to cause laminitis. Additionally, a very high concentration of glucose in the blood over time can impair the small blood vessels in the body, which can cause problems with wound healing, vision, circulation and more. EMS can affect any horse of any age or breed, whether the horse is overweight or not.

A horse can have either PPID or EMS, and in some cases both. However, just because a horse has PPID does not mean he also has EMS, and vice versa. Horses diagnosed with PPID are certainly at risk for also developing EMS, but it doesn’t necessarily occur in every case. This is why testing by a veterinarian is so important. From a nutritionist’s point of view, the feeding recommendations will be very similar for both conditions. 

Nutrition for the PPID (and EMS) Horse

When it comes to nutrition for the PPID or EMS horse, the goal is to control the amount of soluble carbohydrates in the diet. Soluble carbohydrates include starches and sugars, compared to non-soluble carbohydrates which are sources of fiber. (For this discussion, limiting carbohydrates refers to soluble carbohydrates.) But what constitutes a so-called low-carb diet? While science is still working on the exact answer, there are guidelines nutritionists use.  

Here at BUCKEYE™ Nutrition and the WALTHAM® Equine Studies Group, we use the latest scientific research to develop nutrition plans for all horses, including those diagnosed with PPID and/or EMS. For general example, we suggest less than 20% starch and sugars in the total diet, with even lower recommendations (10-12%) for horses and ponies with a history of laminitis. Evaluation of the entire diet is essential, with particular attention paid to the source of forage and any supplemental concentrates fed on a daily basis. 

For horses that have PPID and are underweight, we typically recommend adding a fat source for additional calories and weight gain. Fat will not exacerbate glucose and insulin. Exercise may need to be modified to help preserve some energy for improving body condition.  

By contrast, the goal for overweight horses is to achieve weight loss without sacrificing essential vitamins, minerals and protein. Exercise is also a key factor in facilitating weight loss and maintaining muscle tone. A program can be designed for horses of all ability and soundness levels. For horses at maintenance, the focus would be on existing forage, ensuring limited carbohydrates and a controlled exercise program if the horse is sound enough to handle it.  

At the end of the day, each horse is an individual and should be fed as such. Dietary recommendations should be based on a horse’s health status, activity level and forage source among other factors. At BUCKEYE Nutrition, you can reach out to our equine nutritionists, all of whom have advanced graduate degrees concentrating in equine nutrition, about the needs of your horse. We’re here to help make the world a better place for horses, so don’t hesitate to ask us! 

How Much Does A Horse Eat?

Two Horses Eating

There’s nothing like the excitement of a new horse or one’s first horse. One of the most important things to consider is that horse’s diet. But where to begin? We receive many calls from horse owners who are overwhelmed, confused and downright frustrated about what to do when trying to determine what — and how much — to feed their equine companions. One size does not fit all, and each horse’s individual needs must be considered. However, there are a few basics you should know so you can head in the right direction.  

How much can a horse consume?

Typically, a horse consumes 1.5-2.5% of his body weight in food per day. Say, for example, you have a horse that weighs 1,100 pounds. The math is simple (I promise!):

  • 1100 x 1.5% = 16.5 lb of food/day
  • 1100 x 2.0% = 22 lb of food/day
  • 1100 x 2.5% = 27.5 lb of food/day

Horses with trouble maintaining weight may need closer to 2.5% of their body weight in food per day, whereas easy keepers (and certainly most ponies) will probably fare well with 1.5-2% of their body weight in food per day. 

When it comes to calories, an individual horses’ needs vary widely. Think again about the 1,100-pound horse in light work, who is ridden three to four times per week for a total of about three hours. That horse needs approximately 20,000 kilocalories (what we think of as Calories) per day! By comparison, a 440-pound pony needs closer to 8,000 kilocalories*. 

Most horse owners don’t count calories in equine diets. For the most part, they don’t have to if good quality forage (hay and/or grass) and concentrate feed, when necessary, are provided. 

Forage First

Horses evolved eating frequent, small forage meals throughout the day, and thus evolved on a forage-based diet. Always begin with forage. When starting with a new diet, try to get some of the hay a horse has been eating from wherever the horse is coming from. Remember, all hay is not the same. Just like when changing concentrates, bringing new hay into the diet should also be done gradually. (Yes, even when you order your next load of hay, or travel to a horse show!)

If the horse easily maintains weight, use the above body weight guide to weigh out an appropriate amount of hay and provide a ration balancer such as GRO ‘N WIN™ or Senior Balancer. Ration balancers will ensure nutrient needs are met, regardless of what may be missing in the hay, without providing extra calories. 

Horses that can’t maintain weight on hay alone may need a grain concentrate, such as EQ8™, CADENCE™ Ultra or SAFE ‘N EASY™ Senior, to help supply enough calories. Guidelines on how much concentrate to feed are provided by the manufacturer, based on the horse’s ideal body weight. Remember to feed the horse based on the weight you want him to be. 

BUCKEYE Nutrition carefully crafts feeding directions based on the concentration of nutrients and calories of each product — we’ve done the hard work for you. Our nutritionists all have advanced graduate degrees in equine nutrition, and can help guide your through feeding recommendations based on your horse’s needs. Reach out to our equine nutritionists today.

 

*National Research Council. 2007. Nutrient Requirements of Horses, 6th Edition. National Academies Press, Washington, DC. 

Probiotics May Help Support Digestive System of Horses

Horse Eating From Bucket

Reproduction, performance, schedule changes, travel ­— all can affect a horse’s delicate digestive system. If gut health is an issue for your horse, or if your horse experiences regular stress, adding a probiotic may help support digestion.

What do probiotics do for your horse?

Increasingly, research shows the importance of the microbiome (population of microbes in the gut) to overall health. Life stressors can disrupt the microbiome, which is where probiotics may have benefits for both humans and horses.

“Colic, lack of appetite and a decline in performance are potential problems resulting from digestive issues,” says Dr. Nettie Liburt, PAS Senior Equine Nutrition Manager, Mars Horsecare US. “A consistent diet with the support of probiotics may be useful in reducing the effects of stress on the digestive system.”

What are probiotics?

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as live microorganisms that when administered at adequate concentrations confer a health benefit on the host. You may have heard them referred to as “good bacteria” or “good bugs.” 

Another name for probiotics is direct fed microbials (DFMs). DFMs are intended to provide live colonies of lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB), typically found in the intestines of healthy animals1. LAB produce vitamins, enzymes and volatile fatty acids (used in energy production), all of which may aid digestion, provide nutritional value and promote gastrointestinal (GI) health1

“Common species of LAB include Lactobacilli and Enterococcus, which are added to BUCKEYE™ Nutrition EQ8™ products,” says Dr. Liburt. These species of bacteria are found in healthy equine microbiomes and are believed to help reduce or exclude the growth of potential pathogens.

Application is important

Probiotics are only useful if they’re still active once the horse consumes the feed. They’re heat sensitive, so they need to be added to a feed after processing.

BUCKEYE Nutrition uses trademarked technology to apply probiotics. This process ensures even distribution of live probiotics in the feed, so they remain protected to be beneficially active in the horse’s digestive system.

“Our probiotic application technology separates us from other companies,” says Amber Krotky, MS, PAS, Quality and Product Development Manager, Mars Horsecare US Inc. “It’s our proprietary method of guaranteeing proper application and delivery of live probiotics."

At BUCKEYE Nutrition, we formulate all our feeds based on current scientific research and knowledge of equine nutrition. If you’re looking for a horse feed to support optimal digestion, EQ8™ Gut Health Multi-Textured Feed or EQ8™ Senior Gut Health Multi-Textured Feed might be your answer.  

 


References

1. National Research Council. 2007. Nutrient Requirements of Horses, 6th Ed. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

 

The best ways to feed a senior horse with dental issues

Senior horse grazing in a meadow

As your horse ages, he can experience dental issues. This can affect what and how they eat and could contribute to a loss of body condition. We’ll discuss signs of dental trouble and give you some suggestions for various feeding choices to help your senior horse’s health and performance.

Dental issues in senior horses

Periodontal disease often accompanies advancing age. A horse may experience tooth loss, or existing molars may become so worn that the horse can no longer chew properly. This makes it difficult to chew long-stemmed hay.

Have you noticed your horse’s body condition score decreasing, or are you finding semi-chewed hay (called “quids”) around the feeding area? Your horse is most likely struggling with dental issues and may not be consuming as much feed as you think he is. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, other signs of dental trouble include dropping feed, eating with the head tilted to the side, abnormal swellings around the cheek teeth, nasal discharge from one side, foul-smelling breath, or fussiness in response to the bridle or when asked to work.

A horse of any age may experience dental problems, but seniors are especially prone. No matter how old your horse is, a “senior” diet program that facilitates proper food intake can be implemented. This may involve a complete change in feed or simply making a few adjustments in the existing feed program, depending on the individual situation.

Feeding options for senior horses

If your horse is maintaining weight and body condition regardless of dental concerns, it is possible that no changes need to be made just because he reaches a certain age. However, if the horse consumes little or no grain concentrate or is on a forage-only diet and is maintaining condition, consider feeding them a low-calorie ration balancer. Ration balancers provide vitamins, minerals and protein at low feeding rates to ensure a horse receives all the necessary nutrients they need – even the ones potentially missing from forage or fiber alternatives.

Forage Alternatives and Complete Feeds

The most important part of feeding a horse with dental issues is ensuring proper intake of the fiber they need, even if they can’t consume hay. Fiber is essential for digestive health, and providing forage for the horse with dental problems can be accomplished with alternative forage sources if necessary. Chopped hay, soaked hay cubes or pellets, and soaked beet pulp are all excellent options. In addition, a complete feed – such as SAFE ‘N EASY Complete, which comes in pellet form – is designed to provide all of the fiber and nutrients a horse needs as their sole diet. SAFE ‘N EASY Complete may be soaked to ease consumption and increase water intake.

A daily ration of complete feed should be spread out into multiple small meals throughout the day. For example, a 1,000-pound horse may need 20 to 25 pounds of a complete feed every day. Feeding 4 to 5 pounds of SAFE ‘N EASY Complete every 3 to 4 hours will help extend the time it takes the horse to consume his daily ration, while making every effort to mimic natural grazing behavior by spreading meals out over time.

Feed Form

If necessary, feed a commercial grain concentrate that is extruded like SAFE 'N EASY Senior. Extruded feeds quickly soak and soften, and they are easy to chew and digest, especially if a horse is missing teeth.

Adding warm water to feed concentrates and alternative fiber sources also make it easier for horses to chew. The addition of water can help reduce the risk of choking and decrease the amount of feed dropped.

If possible, continue to encourage normal grazing behavior by giving your horse access to pasture and hay, which will help promote hindgut health.

Slowly transition the horse’s feed

If you decide to change your horse’s feed, make sure you slowly introduce new feed. Gradually decrease the amount of the old feed, while increasing the amount of new feed. It should take at least 10 to 14 days to transition to 100% of the new feed.

If your horse has a sensitive digestive system, this process could take a few weeks to a month. The more time you can take to transition to the new feed, the better the transition will be for your horse. The practice of slow transition also includes hay – when a new batch of hay arrives, slowly mix it in with existing hay so the horse’s gut has time to adjust to the new forage source.

Feed suggestions for senior horses

Good management and supportive nutrition will help your horse thrive and feel his best. Feed him the highest quality, safest feed available. Make dental care part of your horse’s routine wellness program in partnership with your veterinarian, and work with BUCKEYE Nutritionists to ensure a diet best suited to your horse’s individual needs. Buckeye Nutrition offers a variety of feed and supplements for senior horses and ponies that are made in a 100% medication-free mill from ingredients that meet the highest quality standards.

Got nutrients? Why you should add a ration balancer to your horse’s diet

Horse Chewing on Hay

 

Adding a ration balancer to your horse’s diet helps them get essential nutrients that may be missing from their forage. It’s also great for easy keepers that require limited calories. Ration balancers help ensure a well-rounded diet, important for growth, performance, reproduction and more.

You might assume your horse is getting all the nutrients they need on a forage-only diet. But are they really? Forages vary in nutrient quality, and stored hay loses vitamin E within a few weeks. A ration balancer can help fill in the nutritional gaps.

What is a ration balancer?

Ration balancers are a nutrient-dense horse feed that often come in a pelleted form and have a low feeding rate. They provide protein, essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins that the horse might not be getting enough of in their usual diet. Think of a ration balancer as a multivitamin.

If you’re concerned that this highly nutritious feed will add a lot of calories to your horse’s diet – and therefore cause weight gain – don’t fret. Ration balancers aren’t high in starch, sugar or fat, so they won’t add significant calories.

Some people also question the “high” amount of protein in ration balancers. Coming in at about 25-35% crude protein, that’s a lot more than the 10-16% in standard feed. However, the nutrient-dense ration balancers have a lower feeding rate. Since you’re feeding less to your horse, it adds up to about the same (or sometimes even a little less) amount of protein they would get from feeding the recommended amount of a standard 12% crude protein feed.

GRO ‘N WIN™, the original ration balancer, has 32% crude protein. It can complement a diet consisting of grass or grass-legume mixed forage for horses of all life stages. To complement a diet that is 75% or more alfalfa, BUCKEYE™ Nutrition offers GRO ‘N WIN™ Alfa. Senior Balancer has the same high-quality nutrition as GRO ‘N WIN™, with added MSM (to support joint health) and yeast culture (to support healthy digestion).

What’s missing from your horse’s forage-only diet?

As we said before, forages can vary in nutrient quality and quantity. In a perfect scenario, pasture would provide all the daily nutrients a horse requires. But factors such as Poor growing conditions like drought or flooding, and seasonal changes can affect what the horse is consuming.

When you start supplementing pasture with hay, you may not be supplying adequate nutrients. As soon as hay is harvested, it begins to lose vitamins and continues to do so the older it gets. Adding a ration balancer to a horse’s forage-only diet can help provide the vitamins, minerals and amino acids they need.

How to add a ration balancer to your horse’s diet

There are a few ways you can incorporate ration balancers into your horse’s diet any time of the year. Since the balancer needs to be fed with forage, hay or pasture, you can combine it with a feed that has good quality forage or supplement a commercial concentrate feed plus forage. It’s best to divide the recommended daily amount of a ration balancer in at least two daily feedings. This practice will help your horse maximize nutrient absorption throughout the day.

A ration balancer can be good for horses who need limited starches and sugars in their diet, like horses who suffer from polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) or other forms not related to sugar/starch; horses who suffer from PPID or Equine Cushing’s Syndrome; and insulin-dysregulating horses. A ration balancer can also help limit potassium for horses with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) when fed with a forage low in potassium concentration.

When looking for the best ration balancer for horses, make sure you get one that is made with pure, safe ingredients. At BUCKEYE Nutrition™, we use 100% traceable ingredients and produce our feeds in a single, medication-free facility.