LAMENESS AND POOR PERFORMANCE
It has been reported that about 90% of poor performance cases can be attributed to lameness, either clinical (obvious lameness) or sub-clinical (lameness not readily visible under normal exam conditions).
It is logical that noticeable lameness causes horses to perform below their potential, but sub-clinical lameness can be an even greater problem. Clinical lameness can be quickly recognized, investigated, and corrected. In horses with sub-clinical lameness, however, the disease process remains undetected and untreated. It is allowed to progress, resulting in irreversible damage to the structure of joints, secondary lameness, muscle pain, behaviour problems, impaired performance and economic losses.
Early diagnosis and intervention can stop minor problems from deteriorating, preserving long term soundness and maximizing performance.
Most of my clients present every horse in their stable, on a regular basis, for physical exams. This enables the identification of subtle or sub-clinical problems.
A horse is clinically lame if it has a visible limp or asymmetric gait. It will try to lift its weight off the sore leg and place more weight on the sound legs. A “head-nod” results. (When the sore front leg hits the ground, the horse lifts its head up to shift weight to the back legs and off the sore front leg. When the sound front leg hits the ground, the head nods down, loading that leg excessively.) Sometimes, when a horse is very lame in a hind leg, the horse will nod its head down to shift weight onto the front legs and off of the hind legs. Sometimes, a horse with a sore hind leg will lift its pelvis higher on the lame side (called a hip-hike).
Lameness is only visible (clinical) when one leg is relatively more painful than the opposite leg. Both legs can be sore, but as long as the pain is unequal, the horse will protect the more sore side and the head nod will be evident. There are various degrees of clinical lameness ranging from an inconsistent or almost imperceptible limp to an inability to bear any weight at all on the affected leg.
Sub-clinical lameness is lameness that you can not see under normal conditions. Bilateral lameness, lameness in all four legs, and lameness that only manifests under extreme stress or speed is sub-clinical.
Bilateral lameness is often inapparent. If a horse’s legs are equally sore, he will not favor one and will not limp. Instead, he will shorten his stride, develop back or muscle pain, perform below expectations, make breaks, “stop” in the last part of a race, refuse jumps, make mistakes of stride in dressage tests, tie up, blow after working, have a longer than normal recovery, or develop behaviour problems such as pulling, bucking, and rearing. Many horses just develop a poor attitude to work. “Bleeding” or Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage and dorsal displacement of the soft palate (“flipping the palate”) are common presenting complaints.
Some lameness only shows up at high speed or under extreme stress such as in the last part of a race. Some will manifest only with a rider or doing particular movements like flying changes or lateral work. Some will appear on a lunge line or on particularly hard, soft, or irregular or unstable footing. Some only present in the cart and not in-hand. Once again, these lameness cases are often presented for performance and behavior problems, back, or other muscle pain.
Lameness In My Practice
In my practice, the majority of horses presented for lameness or performance problems have one or more of the following: 1) foot pain including sole bruises, abscesses and, corns; 2) arthritis (joint inflammation); 3) tendonitis (a bowed tendon) or; 4) suspensory desmitis. Bowed tendons and suspensory desmitis present as clinical lameness and there is obvious pain, heat, and swelling. By far, the most common sub-clinical lameness or performance problems involve joint and foot pain. In many cases these conditions are both present.
Arthritis is a term that means “joint inflammation” (arth-joint, itis – inflammation). Inflammation occurs in joints when they are placed under stress in excess of what they have adapted for. This stress can be sudden and severe (stepping in a hole, taking a bad step on poor footing, or some other accident), or it can be repetitive and low grade (wear and tear).
Horses are designed for eating grass and running away from the occasional predator. They are designed to land flat on their feet, load bones and joints evenly from side to side, and break over the middle of their toes. Unfortunately, not many horses have perfect conformation, perfect hoof balance, or work on perfect footing so stress is not distributed evenly. They are not born readily adapted for repeatedly pulling a sulky or carrying a rider around a track at top speed or over jumps. The idea behind training is to gradually increase the stress on a horse causing them to adapt to the work we expect them to do. In short, training a young horse or training a more mature horse down to race after a spell is constantly placing their joints under stress they have not adapted to. Therefore, inflammation occurs on an ongoing basis in most horses in training.
Joints are made up of the ends of two or more bones which are covered with cartilage and joined together by the joint capsule. The joint capsule is lined by the synovial membrane. This membrane is very important as it produces the synovial fluid (joint fluid) that lubricates, protects and nourishes the joint cartilage. In a healthy joint, synovial fluid is thick like syrup. It is replaced every 24 hours or so on an ongoing basis.
Inflammation in joints begins with synovitis and capsulitis. In synovitis and capsulitis, enzymes are produced that breakdown joint fluid, making it thin and watery. It no longer lubricates and protects the joint properly. With a lack of nourishment and lubrication, the cartilage surface of the joint becomes abraded. Over a more extended period of time, the sub-chondral bone (bone underneath the cartilage in the joint) begins to change.
Over time, then, synovitis and capsulitis will progress to sub-chondral bone disease and osteoarthritis. This entire process is referred to as arthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD). X-rays only show bone, so relatively advanced DJD is the first stage that is reliably visible on radiographs.
It is much better to identify and treat joint problems before they are visible on radiograph. If inflammation is stopped, the synovial membrane will make new fluid that will remain thick and sticky. If the breakdown of synovial fluid is the only damage that has occurred, a completely normal joint environment will be restored. If the cartilage surface has been damaged, some treatments can provide repair, and a normal joint can be created. Once bone has changed, however, it cannot be reversed. Thick, healthy joint fluid will stop rough bones from rubbing together in the joint, and DJD will be arrested, but a truly normal joint cannot be restored.
Since the primary goal of therapy is to stop inflammation and to stop the progression of degenerative joint disease, the treatment of choice in most cases is intra-articular cortisone. Cortisones are very effective anti-inflammatories, and remain the treatment of choice in human medicine for intra-articular therapy.
There are several different types of cortisone that can be used in joints. Controlled studies have shown that all cortisones reduce inflammation and that most improve the health of joint cartilage. Triamcinolone (Vetalog, Kenalog, or Kenacort), Isoflupredone (Predef 2X), and Betamethasone (Celestone Soluspan) have all been shown to be safe or beneficial for joint cartilage. Methyl Prednisolone (Depo-Medrol or Vetacortyl) is likely safe in low doses, but can impair the healing of joint cartilage if given too frequently or in large amounts. Triamcinolone has been anecdotally linked to laminitis, but the relationship has not been confirmed. It has never been caused in healthy horses at normal doses and has not been caused experimentally using doses up to six times those commonly used.
NSAIDS like Bute and Banamine tend to kill pain better than they reduce inflammation in joints, so they are not a sufficient treatment in most cases.
Once inflammation is resolved and DJD is arrested, the second goal of therapy is to restore a normal joint environment. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a building block for thick joint fluid, so supplementation may be useful. HA can be administered directly into a joint, however, it does not work very well if there is a great deal of inflammation present and it is generally used in joints along with cortisone. Studies have shown that IV HA (Hyonate or Legend) is as useful as intra-articular treatments, and recent research indicates that oral administration of HA may be helpful.
If cartilage damage has already occurred, then it can be beneficial to treat horses with a product that can stimulate joint repair or provide the building blocks for cartilage repair. Adequan, Glucosamine Sulphate, and Pentosan may be used for this purpose. Glucosamine Sulphate supplementation increases the body’s production of hyaluronic acid as well.
Additional medications are available to treat arthritis including some homeopathic treatments that reduce inflammation and stimulate joint healing. The homeopathic medications I mainly use are Traumeel and Zeel.
Finally, the third goal of therapy is to prevent reoccurrence of lameness. Adequan, Glucosamine, or Pentosan can be given regularly to reduce inflammation and repair cartilage. They can keep inflammation at bay in sound horses in training, and they can increase the interval between joint injections in horses with lameness problems. Optimal shoeing and good footing are of utmost importance, and adjustments to the training regimen may be helpful in some cases.
- The products of inflammation are enzymes that damage the joint.
- Early diagnosis and treatment will preserve normal joint structure and function maximizing long term soundness and performance.
- The first goal of therapy is to stop inflammation and, therefore, to stop the progression of degenerative joint disease.
- The second goal of therapy is to restore the most normal joint environment possible.
- The third goal of therapy is to prevent reoccurrence of the problem.3
Dr Corinne Hills, Pro-Dosa International Ltd., 34 Ryan Road, RD 4, Pukekohe, New Zealand.
Phone: +64 27 238 8482 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.pro-dosa.com FB: ProDosaBoost
Now that you have supplements sorted out, what about feeds? Comparing prepared feeds is just about as confusing as comparing supplements, but with less math, you’ll be pleased to know.
Somehow, until the mid-2000’s, I managed to go through life blissfully unaware of the complexities of choosing prepared feeds. I worked in racing stables, and all my clients fed a prepared racing formulation to their racehorses. Though some added bits and bobs, such as barley, supplements, and oils, they didn’t really ask me that many questions about their basic feeding regimens. Then, I set up a mobile equine veterinary practice in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi, UAE. It was a pretty interesting place where I met a broad range of people, from nearly every background and nationality, with a wide range of horses, in a whole array of different management situations, doing every possible activity. To add to the rich tapestry of experiences, I’d often find the entire equine and human smorgasbord at a single stable.
This complex set-up, the need for refrigerated feed rooms (Outside temperatures soar to 45-50 degrees Celsius, and inside it would be even hotter. Nutrients aren’t very stable when they are heated excessively, and moulds etc. do really well.), and the ordering systems for some feeds meant that many of these stables had an entire pallet of feed, for each type of horse, in each activity. This, of course, cost a fortune and took up way more space than anyone really had in their refrigerated feed rooms. To top it all off, the forages available (…and there is no grass…ever), are variable in quality throughout the year. Some had imported hays that were expensive but quite nice for at least part of the year, and some had the highly variable and often not very nutritious local hay. This meant that feed costs and logistics were of major concern to virtually all of my clients. They pretty much all asked me about the prepared feeds they were feeding and asked about simplifying the whole ordeal. (They also asked me about the value of dates and camel’s milk in the equine diet which I looked into, being open minded and all. I was a bit impressed with camel’s milk in particular and would quite like a dairy camel at home in NZ… I’ll tell you about what I found out sometime…but I digress…)
In order to answer all the questions about feeds I was getting, I took myself off to the camel souk (a market at the camel racetrack where, ironically, most horse products can be found) and had a look at the myriad feed stores. There were feeds from every company I could think of, from every country in the world. It would take a lifetime to sort through the entire selection, so I started by looking at the ranges of feeds from each of the brands that my clients were feeding.
I found an enormous number of feeds that looked pretty similar. I had a hard time telling apart…
1. the different formulations from the same company as well as
2. the formulations from different companies, all of whom had similar feeds and ranges as the others.
The bags were different, but what was in them was pretty much the same. They all had very similar ingredients, in very similar, but not quite identical, proportions. I couldn’t really tell them apart, and I’m guessing, without referring to the names on the bag, like Racehorse Mix or Cool Feed, you would struggle to tell the difference too.
Before we begin sorting out how to compare different feeds, you should know some feed basics.
It is important to know something about the volume a horse will eat in a day. Most horses will eat between 2-3% of their body weight per day in feed, including hay, grass, and concentrate feed. When horses are working very hard, their feed consumption is generally at the bottom of the range, and for that reason, they can’t normally meet their protein and energy requirements by eating grass or hay. A concentrated form of those nutrients must be fed.
Since a 500kg horse in hard work will only eat about 10 kg per day, all of the nutrients required must be fed in that volume of feed. It is also important to keep in mind that the larger part of the ration should be provided in the form of roughage as that is what keeps the gut moving properly and the flora healthy. For this reason, you really can’t just feed a horse 10kg of a concentrated feed and nothing else.
So, before we begin to talk about feed, then, we have to talk a bit about hay and grass. It is important to know something about the quality of your forage. You can use average values for the nutrient content for each plant species to get a rough idea of what your hay or grass is contributing to your horses’ daily rations, but an analysis provides more accurate information. You may be able to ask your feed supplier for an analysis of the hay they sell, or you may send samples of your pasture grass and hay to a laboratory yourself. There are also packaged hay products available in most parts of the world. These are labelled with nutritional information, just as concentrate feeds are, but there is one catch you may not be aware of. Nutritional information can be listed on a “Dry Matter Basis” or on an “As Fed” Basis. “As Fed” is pretty self-explanatory. Nutrient content is measured in a kg of the forage in the form that you’d feed it. When you feed 1 kg of it, you will be feeding the feed, moisture and all. “Dry Matter Basis” means that the nutrients are listed as a percentage of just the dry component of feed that is left when the moisture is removed. When you compare feeds, you will need to calculate the amount of nutrients on an “As Fed Basis”, as when you actually feed your horse, you will be feeding the feed, moisture and all. For example, if a packaged forage lists their nutrient content on a Dry Matter Basis, but the moisture content is listed 50%, 1kg of that forage contains only 500g of dry matter and 500g water. If the label says there is 20% protein on a dry matter basis that is the same as saying there is 200g of protein per kg of dry forage. When you actually feed it to your horse, however, you will be feeding the forage along with an equal amount of moisture (water). To get 1 kg of dry matter from that feed, therefore, you have to feed 2 kg. If 1kg of the feed, on a dry matter basis has 200g of protein, when the 1kg of moisture is added back into the calculation, there is only 200g of protein in 2 kg of the feed as fed. On an as fed basis therefore, the feed is only 10% protein or 100g of protein per kg of feed. In this example, content “as fed” = 20% protein on a DM Basis x 50% moisture/100%
To convert from dry matter basis to as fed basis, multiply by the percentage moisture and divide by 100.
With dry hays, the moisture content is less than 10%, so the “as fed” content is almost the same as the content on a dry matter basis. Grass, in contrast, in about 90% water, so the as fed content is very different than the content on a dry matter basis.
Depending on the maturity and conditions at harvest as well as the type of hay, protein content can vary from well under 10% for poor grass hay up to 18-20% or so for nice Lucerne (alfalfa) hay, chaff, or cubes. The poorer the hay being fed; the greater the importance of the hard feed.
Horses need energy, protein, calcium balanced with phosphorus, vitamins, and minerals including salt. All horses need these same nutrients, but those working hard, growing, in foal, and lactating, need more of them. You can find nutrient requirements for your specific horse by looking up NRC or by asking your feed supplier, nutritionist, or veterinarian. I talk about some of the requirements later in this post.
When nutritionists balance rations, they start by looking at the protein and energy content (and costs) of the feed ingredients available. Then, once they have decided on the main components, they look at vitamins and minerals etc. which can be added and adjusted to achieve optimal balance while considering the contribution of the main components of the feed. So, just as if we were formulating a new feed or ration, we will start with energy and protein.
The main differences between the varieties of commercial preparations include…
1. The concentration of nutrients, especially energy and protein, and
2. The specific form of energy and protein provided.
For example, spelling mixes have lower concentrations of energy and protein than racehorse mixes. This is generally because most feeds are designed to be fed at a rate of 4-6 kg per day. A spelling horse will need to eat 5kg of a spelling mix to meet its lower requirements for energy and protein, and a racehorse needs to eat 5kg of a racing mix to meet its needs. In fact, if the spelling horse ate the racehorse mix, it could just eat less of it to get the required amount of nutrients.
For this section, remember that there are 1000 grams (g) in 1 kilogram (kg). I’m sorry, but I didn’t promise there wouldn’t be ANY math; just less of it.
Protein is often expressed as a percentage on feed bags, and horsemen tend to think of protein requirements in terms of those percentages. (ie. Racehorses need 16% protein and spelling horses need 10%.) In fact, protein requirements are in grams per day and not in percentage at all. 100g of protein could be found in 100g of a 100% protein feed; 1kg of a 10% protein feed; or 10 kg of a 1% protein feed. So, the percentage of protein in a feed is only important when you consider how much of that feed your horse will eat.
Horses in hard work need about 1000-1500g, particularly if they are also growing.
Spelling horses need about 750g
Ponies (adult weight 200kg) in hard work need 350-450g
The average 2-3 year-old racehorse in intense work needs 1000-1500g of quality protein per day. As I already said, a horse in hard work will eat 2% of their body weight per day. As a result, a racehorse could be expected to eat only about 5kg of concentrate feed and 5kg of roughage. If the average protein content of hay is 13%, then about 650g of protein can be derived from hay. The rest has to come from the concentrate feed.
A concentrate feed of at least 13% protein fed at a rate of 5 kg per day might be enough for the average horse, but some will need more like 850g of protein from their concentrate feed, and since that must be provided in 5kg or less feed, then the feed would have to be 17% protein to meet requirements. If it was 20% protein, the 850g could be fed in 4kg of feed, and the 650 would be provided in 3kg. That would allow that horse to eat a bit more hay, which has some benefits for the health of the gut.
Remember, don’t worry about the percentage of protein in the feed being high. If the percentage of protein in the feed is high, you will simply be able to feed less of it to meet your horse’s protein requirements.
In order for horses to make proteins (which are the building blocks of muscle cells), 10 essential amino acids must be provided in particular ratios. (Essential amino acids are those that horses cannot synthesise and, therefore, must consume.) If even one of these essential amino acids is in short supply, protein production will stop. The amino acid, available in the lowest relative amount, is said to be the limiting amino acid. The excess amino acids (the ones in higher amounts than the limiting amino acids, that now can’t be used for protein and muscle cell synthesis in the horse) become waste products, resulting in increases in heart rate and load on the kidneys. For this reason, the best protein sources have the best essential amino acid balance, and as many of the amino acids provided as possible can be used for protein synthesis and muscle development in the horse.
Grains, like barley and oats, have some imbalances in the amino acid ratios, and as a result, only about 40% of the protein in an oat or barley-based feed will actually be useable by the horse to make muscle. In comparison, the ratio of essential amino acids in peas, lucerne (alfalfa), lupins, or soy allows for about 80-90% of the protein to be used. Make sure you consider, therefore, the type of protein provided in a feed.
Horses in hard work need about 26-35 Mcal of DE (Digestible Energy)
Spelling horses need about 15-18 Mcal of DE
Ponies (200kg mature weight) in hard work need 11-14 Mcal of DE
Energy requirements can often be met by pasture or hay in spelling horses, but for horses in hard work, it is necessary to feed a concentrated feed in addition to forage. Energy is provided in equine feeds in the form of carbohydrate (grains, corn, etc.) and as fat. Traditionally, oats and barley were fed as the primary energy source. They are a cost-effective way to provide energy, and some horses do very well on them. Some individuals, however, do not. Horses that suffer from a tendency to tie-up, those that have a tendency to founder, and those that colic are generally better avoiding grains.
Normal carbohydrate digestion starts in the small intestine. Starch is broken down to complex sugars, and the complex sugars are, in turn, broken down to glucose. Glucose is absorbed through the small intestine. Any starch or sugars that aren’t digested and absorbed by the time the digesta leaves the small intestine are dumped into the cecum and large intestine. That part of the gut, known as the hindgut, is a big fermentation vat. Bacteria in the hindgut work slowly on the digesta, breaking down roughage to molecules called volatile fatty acids that can be used by the horse for energy.
Horses’ guts, however, were never designed to process large amounts of starch, so the enzymes required for its digestion are produced in limited supply. Grains are very high in starch and sugar and can, therefore, pose problems for digestion. If large amounts are fed at one time, some starch and sugar pass undigested into the hindgut, making it’s environment more acidic. The beneficial population of bacteria can’t survive in an acidic environment, and when they die, they release endotoxins. Those endotoxins are responsible for problems such as colic, laminitis, and diarrhoea. In addition, undesirable bacteria are able to thrive, further disrupting the cecal pH and worsening the environment for beneficial bacteria and so on.
While the rule of thumb is to limit grain feeding to 2kg at a single meal, some susceptible individuals will not even tolerate that quantity at once.
In comparison, fat is a reasonably safe source of energy. While horses were not really designed to eat fat either, they do not seem to have problems with it. Researchers have found that horses tolerate as much as 10% of their diet as fat. For horses in hard work who may require quite a bit of extra energy in their concentrate feed, or for individuals prone to laminitis etc, look for a feed that has less grain and more fat. It can take muscles cells 2-4 weeks to adapt to fat as an energy source, so if you are switching a racehorse to a high fat, low soluble carbohydrate diet (low grain), try to do it when they are not racing in a week. Once metabolism adapts to fat, there is evidence of improved endurance, lower body temperatures, and a reduced incidence of tying-up, laminitis, and colic.
Vitamins, Trace Minerals, and Extras
Pasture and hay may not meet all of the vitamin and trace mineral requirements, even in spelling horses. These nutrients, in most cases, will need to be supplemented, either on top of a plain feed, or in the form of a prepared feed. I wrote about vitamin and mineral requirements as well as the need for balance between each of these elements in the first parts of this reading labels series, so I’ll just mention a few things here.
I generally prefer people to provide a prepared feed rather than mixing their own, unless they know a bit about nutrition or have had advice from a nutritionist. It is easy to get the balance wrong and cause more problems than you fix. Companies making feeds employ nutritionists and provide reasonably balanced preparations for you. I would go so far as to say that all feed companies refer to nutrient requirement standards when formulating their products. In reviewing the huge range of feeds available in the UAE and New Zealand, all I looked at appeared to meet the basic, daily requirements for fat soluble vitamins and trace elements when fed according to package directions. Some provided those nutrients in more bioavailable forms than others (see part 2 of our reading labels post), and I would certainly choose the feeds that include more bioavailable forms of nutrients, but most would be pretty acceptable.
Calcium and Phosphorus must be provided in the diet of horses in a 1.5-2:1 ratio. Commercially prepared feeds will all be pretty well balanced in this department, so you won’t have to worry about this much. In general, grains are high in phosphorus, while lucerne (alfalfa) is high in calcium. Be careful to get this right if you are mixing your own feeds or adding additional grains to prepared feeds.
I talked about most of the trace minerals in previous sections of this marathon post about reading labels, but I didn’t say much about selenium. NRC says that horses in hard work require 1 mg per day, and most nutritionists would probably agree that 3mg is a better dosage to aim for in the diet. The interesting thing about the requirements, is that horses really don’t have a requirement for elemental selenium (just plain, selenium). Their requirement is actually for the selenium containing amino acids, seleno-methionine and seleno-cysteine. This is important.
Selenium is described as having a “narrow therapeutic range”. What that means is that the amount that is toxic for horses is not that much more than the amount they require for normal health. This is also important to know.
Selenium can be provided in several forms. It is provided in feeds as sodium selenite, sodium selenate, selenium yeast, seleno-methionine, and seleno-cysteine. These forms have some fundamental differences. They are not all absorbed, used, and excreted by animals to the same extent. Selenium yeast is a form of selenium that is created when yeasts are grown in an environment with lots of selenium. The yeasts incorporate the selenium into their own amino acids, so the selenium in selenium yeast is actually provided as seleno-methionine and seleno-cysteine for the most part. So, you can consider the last three forms as essentially equal. They are organic molecules that the body is good at absorbing and using.
The sodium selenite/selenate molecules, on the other hand, are inorganic salts that are unpredictably absorbed and used by animals. Studies done about 20 years ago in dairy cows demonstrated that cows supplemented with the same, standard amounts of those forms of selenium in the same diets, ended up with very different levels of selenium in their blood. Some were in the normal range, and some were deficient. When the level of supplementation was increased to correct the deficiencies seen in part of the herd, others started to show signs of toxicity. The conclusion was that the ability to absorb and use sodium selenate and sodium selenite was very individual and quite unpredictable. It was recommended to measure blood selenium in each animal before deciding on the appropriate dietary amount of selenium to feed. When the herd was placed on organic forms of selenium instead, the absorption and use was much more uniform across all individuals in the population. I haven’t found a link to this study to post, but Alltech, a supplier of vitamin and mineral supplements, used this study in their promotional info in Canada probably 20 years ago, so you might have a look at their website for more details about selenium yeasts. Dr. Pagan from KER did a study that demonstrated much higher bioavailability of yeast-based selenium compared to inorganic forms, (link below) and many other researchers have demonstrated similar results with all the organic forms.
The other thing that is worthwhile noting is that inorganic selenium is not excreted very easily. If you end up with a low-grade toxicity, it can take months for the levels to drop back down to normal. If you feed a feed that has selenium in one of those forms, it’s fine, but make sure you have your veterinarian check blood selenium levels from time to time and follow their recommendations for supplementation. Please don’t sprinkle inorganic selenium on your feeds willy-nilly! More is NOT better in this case!
The moral of that story is… when you are comparing different feeds, try to choose one that includes selenium in an organic form. The chances of having normal blood selenium levels will be improved.
Finally, the end is near!
To summarize, evaluate your forage and determine how much additional protein and energy will be required from the concentrate portion of the ration. Then, you can probably just pick a company that you like to deal with, as most have similar ranges. Pick a feed from their range that has nutrients in a high enough concentration that your horses in intense work can meet their protein and energy requirements by eating no more than 5kg of hard feed so they can eat 5 kg of hay (or other forage) to meet fibre requirements and to maintain healthy gut motility etc. Try to pick a feed that has a good quality protein, so pick one with a bit more soy, peas, lupins, or alfalfa, rather than just oats and barley. If you want to avoid problems related to high carbohydrate diets, then look for higher fat diets with little or no oats and barley. Finally, have a look at the trace minerals provided in the daily ration. Pick a feed that has bioavailable forms of trace minerals in proper balance with each other.
Once you have selected a good quality, safe, and healthy feed, then you can probably feed it to most of the horses at your stable. Spelling horses and smaller horses will need to eat less of it with more hay or grass. Racehorses or broodmares etc will need to eat more of it.
Best of luck with choosing feeds. Remember… we are happy to help you read feed and supplement labels, and we are happy to do comparisons for you. Contact us via the website.
I thought I was finished. I celebrated being finished, in fact… and then I thought about product quality and
How do you know if the product you are looking at contains what is says it does; only a fraction of what it
says it has; or way more than it is supposed to have? And even more alarmingly, how do you know it
doesn’t contain contaminants that aren’t supposed to be there?
There was an interesting study presented at the AAEP (American Associate of Equine Practitioners), several
years ago, in which a number of nutraceuticals were analysed and their results compared with label claims.
Those products were found to contain anywhere from 10-200% of the active ingredients that they were
supposed to have. Apparently, this is a more wide-spread problem then you would think or hope.
To bring that home for you, many people will have heard of the tragic, fatal cases of selenium toxicity that
occurred a few years ago in a group of polo ponies fed a feed that was made with far too much selenium.
The manufacturer had simply made an error in calculations and had put a decimal in the wrong place,
resulting in 10 or 100 times the selenium being added to a batch of feed.
A few years ago, the trace-element, cobalt, made the news. Required for normal health in trace amounts,
excessive levels constitute a positive test. Several cobalt positives were investigated by racing authorities.
In some of the cases, injectable products were found to be at fault, but in one, a powdered feed
supplement, that contained cobalt levels far in excess of label claims, was implicated.
As racing authorities did not know how much cobalt could be fed before a positive test was produced, ProDosa International Ltd conducted a cobalt clearance study using commonly used feedstuffs. The results
were interesting, and you may wish to read them here. Following that study in 2016, cobalt was eliminated
from the Pro-Dosa BOOST formulation. Despite that, we still test our raw ingredients and finished product
for cobalt, to reassure horsemen and racing authorities that Pro-Dosa BOOST will never produce a positive
Almost everyone in racing will know of someone who has ended up with a caffeine positive as a result of
feed contamination, and I believe there was a recent case in European equestrian circles in which a feed,
contaminated with poppy seeds, resulted in a positive test and the disqualification of a prominent horse
So, how do you know if a product is manufactured safely and meets label claims?
This information frequently isn’t on the label, but it’s just as important as the ingredients list, so it’s well
worthwhile to make the effort to source the information. You could look for a statement on the website
about quality management, or you might have to ask the manufacturer some questions. Does the
manufacturer have a quality management program? GMP or ISO certification provides hard evidence of
Tip: Be sure to ask every rep that visits your stable about quality management as they will almost certainly be the most readily available source for this information. That will also be a simple way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Any rep that can’t talk competently about their company’s quality management program probably represents a company that doesn’t have one.
GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practice, and this is a specific standard required for pharmaceutical
producers. It is, however, voluntary for feed supplement manufacturers. A generic version of good
manufacturing practice, abbreviated with small “gmp”, is a reference to a quality management system that
is not name-brand, government specified and inspected, GMP. It could be the same as GMP or it could be
applied to a non-standardised or less complete quality system.
Compliance with a name-brand GMP program ensures that quality is built into the product at the time of
manufacture and provides assurance that products are consistently manufactured from quality inputs; in a
safe and clean environment; by trained and diligent staff; using carefully defined procedures. It is a means
of giving consumers confidence that products meet the required quality standards, are safe, and are
reliable. A documentation trail that links starting materials, through the various manufacturing processes,
to the finished product confirms that dispatched product has been approved through quality control
measures. It also ensures that product can be tracked and recalled if any issues arise.
ISO9001/22000 refer to slightly different quality management standards that do not relate directly to
pharmaceutical production but that cover many of the same principles. They demonstrate a commitment
by management to food safety, and they ensure that consideration of potential hazards and critical
processes have been considered in the development of the product and production procedures.
If a company has either ISO or GMP certification, you can be sure that the supplements they produce will
be safe, secure, and generally meet label claims.
If a manufacturer lacks certification, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing a fabulous job of quality
management. They might have a written statement about their commitment to quality management or
you might have to ask some questions to be sure. If at least some proportion of finished product
undergoes analysis for common contaminants, the concentration of active ingredients, and microbial
testing, it will likely be safe. If no testing is done, and the company doesn’t talk about product quality,
safety, and security, I’d worry.
FYI, Pro-Dosa International Ltd. is GMP certified by the Government of New Zealand, Ministry for Primary
Industries, Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines group. Our quality management system has
been in place since 2005, and it was originally developed along GMP, ISO22000, and ISO9001 standards.
The whole team is very proud of our standards, and we would be happy to tell you all about what we do, if
you really want to know. Part 4 – Feed.
THINK ALL “BOOST” PASTES ARE THE SAME? THINK AGAIN!
Download the PDF Article Here Think Again
The composition and balance of nutrients included as well as the safety and quality of each product is different, so buyer beware!
Recently, we have noticed a number of copy-cat “boost” products appearing in the marketplace. Some have chosen the same colours and package appearance or promotional text, and all have chosen a similar name and appear to have copied part of our formulation (the less expensive parts, anyway). None of these products have included the complete formulation contained in a Pro-Dosa BOOST, but they think you will be fooled by an only partially complete product that looks and sounds similar and sells at a lower price. I think, horsemen should think about why someone would do that.
It is said that the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. It does appear that some of our new competitors have recognised Pro-Dosa BOOST is of exceptional quality and composition, and they can’t compete with that. Instead, they hope to be mistaken for the same thing at a lower price. Since I didn’t make Pro-Dosa BOOST to be a cheap product with a large profit margin, I know they can’t make a similar quality product, any less expensive. They have to make a less-complete, poorer-quality supplement instead. While I suppose I should be flattered, instead, I am concerned about how many horsemen will think they are feeding my product, when they’ve bought a “copy-cat” by mistake. How many horses will be fed supplements that aren’t complete, balanced, or safe enough? How many people, feeding a copy-cat they think is ours, will think our product isn’t as good as it used to be when they don’t get the observable effects they have been accustomed to when feeding the original, tried and tested, Pro-Dosa BOOST, established in 2001?
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO REMEMBER ABOUT PRO-DOSA BOOST?
In order to achieve optimal metabolism, performance, recovery, and health, it is necessary to provide a broad spectrum of nutrients, in bioavailable forms, in ideal balance with each other and with the cofactors necessary for their absorption and function. The doses provided must reflect the requirements of horses under stress due to travel, hard work, racing, competition, and illness, as the administration of only some of the nutrients required or feeding quantities below or above requirements may result in imbalances that actually impair absorption and function. With this in mind, I developed Pro-Dosa BOOST to provide complete, balanced, and bioavailable nutritional support.
Because I made Pro-Dosa BOOST for the stables I had worked for in my veterinary practice, for years, I didn’t make it with profit margins or easy marketing in mind. I made it to make a difference to my patients and to make things easier and less expensive for my clients, who were my friends and not just face-less consumers, I didn’t know. I looked up the nutrient requirements published by NRC, and then I looked up other nutrition research and texts to fill in requirements not available through NRC. I compared those to what I had been providing for my patients in injectable form, and I referred to veterinary pharmacology texts and talked to exercise physiologists. I came up with a profile and doses of nutrients that, I believed, would be the most scientific and practical for competitive horses in my veterinary practice. I didn’t worry about whether or not horsemen would immediately understand the formulation or recognise the importance of some of the less familiar sounding nutrients. I focused on making a difference to equine health and welfare.
As a veterinarian, my clients trust me to provide safe, secure, efficacious, and ethical treatments for my patients. Product quality, therefore, had to be of paramount importance. I decided to make Pro-Dosa BOOST out of human food or pharmaceutical grade nutrients that would meet much higher purity standards than animal feed grade nutrients.
I thought it was important to measure the concentration of nutrients in the final product, because I wanted to be confident that I would be providing my patients the correct doses of each nutrient, not more or less, for best effect, and for their health and safety. If insufficient doses are given, then no impact or a negative impact on the overall health of horses may result. If you are buying a supplement that doesn’t contain what the label says, then at best, it’s a waste of money. At worst, it could be detrimental to your horses’ health. At the same time, giving too much of some nutrients is dangerous. Many horsemen will recall the tragic story from a few years ago about the group of polo ponies who died as a result of eating a feed supplement that contained ten times the amount of selenium that it was meant to, when an error was made in production of the product. I wanted to make sure that would never happen to a horse fed Pro-Dosa BOOST.
Finally, I wanted to be certain that I would not inadvertently cause harm though contaminants. I made my production and product tracking procedures as safe as possible by registering my facility in the NZ government inspected and certified GMP program. I used hazard analysis principles (HACCP) in developing methods of raw materials procurement, manufacturing, and finished product quality and safety assurance. I decided to submit all finished product for analysis for naturally occurring prohibited substances that may contaminate feed grade nutritional products and cause positive drug tests, and I submit all finished product for microbial culture to ensure it is sterile. Finally, I validated (proved) that my processes were consistently effective in producing a quality, sterile, and safe product that horsemen could feel confident and secure feeding to their horses. I wanted them to know that they could trust Pro-Dosa BOOST to be providing exactly what they were paying for and what their horses actually need to perform and recover at their best.
Think about what you are spending your money on and learn to read labels critically. Read my series of blog articles on “Reading Labels”, and please do contact me if you’d like help with general nutrition or comparing supplements and feeds.
Could Pro-Dosa BOOST produce a positive test? This question was asked of us frequently by trainers and horse owners, a few years ago. At the time, Pro-Dosa BOOST only had 1 mg of cobalt per tube, so the short answer was, “no, it wouldn’t produce a positive test”. We were asked the question many times though, and we felt there were likely many, many more horsemen who had the same concerns but who did not contact us to ask. We decided we had better take action to try to get some information out there for the wider horse community to see.
Cobalt has become a very significant issue in racing and other sports over the past few years. Following positive tests in Australia, racing authorities have made cautionary statements about the administration of cobalt to horses, and it has been reasonably well publicised that administering it at levels that result in the excretion of more than 100-200 micrograms of cobalt per litre of urine (depending on the racing jurisdiction) will result in a positive test. What hasn’t been explained is how much cobalt you can safely feed before those levels are reached. Racing jurisdictions have been working towards finding that threshold but have not yet released any information.
On a more basic level, horsemen and veterinarians have been provided with very limited information about the impact of “normal” levels of cobalt in the feed on the cobalt levels in urine. “Normal” levels may be significantly less than the threshold doses that will eventually be established. Instead, regulatory authorities have said that cobalt deficiencies are not common in horses, and they have recommended that it should be eliminated, as much as possible, from the equine diet until data is published indicating the maximum amount that can be fed.
What is cobalt and how much do horses require? Cobalt is a trace element needed by horses in very small amounts to facilitate normal physiology and metabolism. It is naturally present in feed stuffs, but as levels may be quite low, it is generally included in the formulation of prepared feeds and supplements.
The National Research Council (NRC) pre-2011, recommended daily dietary requirement is at least 0.1mg of cobalt per kilogram of dry matter intake per day. Your average 500kg racehorse can be expected to eat 2% of their body weight per day, which would be 10kg of feed on a dry matter basis. 10kg dry matter intake X 0.1mg cobalt required per kg dry matter = 1mg of cobalt required per day for normal health. According to NRC, resting horses require about half of that. NRC 2011 standards list reduced minimum requirements, ranging from 0.5mg to 0.6mg, depending on age and level of work.
In virtually all cases, feed companies use NRC guidelines when developing formulations, so most complete feeds will contain at least 1mg of cobalt per day, when fed as directed. A horse’s cobalt needs, therefore, should be readily met by its basic feed intake, as long as the cofactors needed for absorption and function are present in the diet. As horses in training for competition and racing are generally fed a well-balanced diet, most will be receiving the cobalt needed for normal health.
After completing a cobalt clearance study in Standardbred horses in training, in New Zealand, we concluded that we could remove cobalt from our formulation while feeling confident that Pro-Dosa BOOST would still provide complete and balanced nutritional support for optimal performance, recovery, and health. We wanted to ensure that trainers and horse owners, from all disciplines, could incorporate Pro-Dosa BOOST in their training regime, without any concern about producing a positive test for cobalt.
If you would like to read more about our findings, please follow the link to our cobalt clearance study.
With the rules of racing or competition quite variable from place to place and changing all the time, it is very important to consider the specific regulations that apply to you, in your sport, and in your part of the world before feeding Pro-Dosa BOOST according to label directions. If you are not allowed to “administer” anything on the day of racing or competition, consider the other ways and times you might be able to incorporate Pro-Dosa BOOST in your management system to ensure your horses are at their best when training, competing, and travelling.
- Feed Pro-Dosa BOOST rather than applying it to your horse’s tongue.
Pro-Dosa BOOST is comprised of a broad range of highly purified nutrients, in good balance with each other, and in quantities that reflect the increased requirements horses have when they are under the stress of hard work, illness, or travel. It is designed to support normal metabolism, health, performance, and recovery. The composition, therefore, is not a problem for horses racing or competing in equestrian sports.
The route of administration can be an issue in some racing jurisdictions. In many countries, Pro-Dosa BOOST can be applied on the tongue, directly from the tube. In some, NOTHING can be administered on the day of racing; not even water. In those places, horses can often be provided with Pro-Dosa BOOST mixed in their feed. It is in a molasses gel, so most horses will eat it happily enough when offered in that manner. In others, it can be fed on the feed on race day, but only if it is normally fed between races as well. Please check your administration rules before deciding how to incorporate Pro-Dosa BOOST into your management system.
If you can’t even feed it on race day, Pro-Dosa BOOST can still be useful in managing your horses.
- Use Pro-Dosa BOOST to support recovery from work prior to racing.
Give a half or a full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST immediately after the last fast-work prior to racing. You can adjust the quantity depending on how hard the horse has worked, the needs of the individual horse, the climate, and how far they will travel, or how challenging race day will be.
Good horses and problem horses will usually benefit from a full tube. Horses that do well, no matter what you do with them, will mostly be fine with a half. If you aren’t allowed to feed Pro-Dosa BOOST on race day, give the full tube post workout.
This portion will help to ensure that horses will recover more completely from their last fast-work before racing. Studies have shown that it can take up to four days for muscles to recover from hard work, and many horses will have their last fast-work session only a couple of days before racing.
Muscle cells take up amino acids much more efficiently for about an hour after hard work. If you can get a broad range of amino acids, in appropriate ratios for protein synthesis, into them during this narrow window of opportunity, you can make a difference to muscle cell recovery. Think of it like the protein shake a body builder would have after they finish a workout at the gym.
Of course, Pro-Dosa BOOST isn’t just amino acids. It also contains electrolytes, vitamins, and trace-minerals. Pro-Dosa BOOST contains the nutrients necessary to support normal appetite, nerve cell function, red blood cell production, muscle cell recovery, and electrolyte balance.
- Use Pro-Dosa BOOST to help horses in hard work to maintain normal appetite, body condition, and performance over a long season.
Give a half or full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST immediately after each fast-work. Most trainers use Pro-Dosa BOOST this way in their horses. They believe they get more starts per preparation and more consistent performance throughout the season. For horses that struggle to maintain body condition during a long season, using Pro-Dosa BOOST this way can help to keep them eating normally, support muscle cell recovery, and help them to maintain muscle mass.
- Use Pro-Dosa BOOST to help horses recover from a race.
Give a half or full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST immediately after returning home from a race.
While you may be outside the window for making the biggest difference to muscle cell recovery, you can still make a difference to how well your horse will eat, drink, replenish reserves, and recover.
Horses that have a hard run may not eat up well, and if they don’t eat, they won’t back up well. Pro-Dosa BOOST will support normal appetite and encourage them to clean up their feed when they get back home or to their stable. If you are allowed to feed them a syringe of BOOST prior to racing, they won’t need this dose afterwards. If you can’t feed them Pro-Dosa BOOST before racing, be sure to give this post-race dose when you get home.
- Use Pro-Dosa BOOST for travel.
Give a full syringe of Pro-Dosa BOOST prior to travel, and for longer journeys, give a syringe upon arrival.
We recommend Pro-Dosa BOOST for travel, especially when travelling over a long distance or over multiple days. Always have fresh water available and make regular water stops along the way. (Please consider any rules of competition that may apply before feeding Pro-Dosa BOOST as directed).
Providing your horse with one tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST, at least 2 – 4 hours prior to loading them on the float (or if you are leaving early in the morning, it can be given the night before, instead), will help them arrive at your destination in the best possible condition. If travel exceeds 8 hours, give another portion upon arrival, as long as that doesn’t contravene your rules of competition.
Using Pro-Dosa BOOST before travel will not only help protect muscles from oxidative muscle cell damage during travel, but it will also help support normal appetite. This can be especially important when horses are to be stabled away from home, in a new environment. This is ideal for horses traveling further afield and when racing in big campaigns.
- Use Pro-Dosa BOOST the day before racing.
From our cobalt clearance study, we found that Pro-Dosa BOOST had an impact on horses for around 18 hours; much longer than the 8-12 hours we had originally expected. If you are able to give a dose of Pro-Dosa BOOST the night before racing, you could reasonably expect the same results as you see when feeding it on race day. Please check the rules of competition that apply to you.
- Use Pro-Dosa BOOST as a health tonic.
Provide half a tube every other day to horses that may require more nutritional support when under the stress of illness.
Did you know that you are probably the very best person to determine if your horse is a “bit-off-colour”? You know “normal” behaviour for your own horse and you know their habits. Just by observing their day to day routine, you can get a feel for your horse’s general well-being and identify any changes that may indicate potential health issues. If you do become concerned about something, you will be better equipped to give the veterinarian a detailed account of when the horse was last normal and what has changed since then, to help in their assessment.
So what should you keep your eye on and what regular checks should you make to establish what is normal for your horse and then to monitor their health?
Here is a list of health checks that you should include:
Demeanour: Has your horse changed the way it acts? Horses should be alert and inquisitive, watching any changes in their environment. If your horse looks a bit sad, is uninterested in what is happening around them, and its head is down (and it is not eating or sleeping), your horse is off-colour and some further investigation is required. Contact your veterinarian.
Eyes: Your horse’s eyes should be open, clear and bright with no discharge or swelling. If you notice excessive discharge or weeping, swelling around the eye or in the corner of the eye, a closed or partially closed eyelid, sensitivity to light, or cloudiness, contact your veterinarian immediately. Eye problems are always an emergency and must be tended to urgently.
Appetite: Most people monitor how their horse is eating concentrate feed, but it is equally important to watch how much time is spent grazing in the paddock. Did you know that when turned out on pasture, a horse will graze about 18 hours a day? Keep an eye on your horse to see if it is spending more time grazing or standing around. If your horse is standing around more than grazing or leaving feed in its bin, then this should be investigated. Take your horse’s temperature and call your veterinarian immediately. Check their water, and look around the paddock or stall to see if they have been passing manure. The veterinarian will ask you about these things, as well as when your horse last had dentistry, and they will certainly do a more complete exam.
Water Consumption: Your horse needs access to clean, fresh water 24/7. A resting horse on a mild day can consume between 20 and 40 litres of water (five litres of water/100 kg of body weight). This amount can increase dramatically (up to 100 litres) after exercise, on hot days, or if lactating (broodmare feeding her foal milk). Horses also don’t like to drink water that is too cold, so if you live in cooler climates, make sure ice and snow is removed from water troughs and buckets. Some horses won’t drink as much if they graze on green, lush pastures as these will have a high-water content.
If you have difficulty getting your horse to drink, make sure the water is not too cold, is clean, and is fresh. If they are still not drinking that well, you can try offering an additional bucket of water with molasses or other tasty flavourings added to it to encourage drinking. Sometimes horses don’t like the smell or taste of plain water they are not used to. When you travel with your horse, if they are fussy about water, try bringing some from home, or if your horse enjoys a drink of molasses flavoured water at home, you can just bring some molasses with you to add to camouflage the taste and smell.)
Urine: Normal urine should be a pale yellow colour, a little like apple juice. If it is darker and thicker in consistency, it may be an indication of dehydration, kidney issues, or tying up. Due to the calcium content of equine urine, cloudy or foamy urine is also normal. Have you watched your horse urinating? Your horse should pass about 8-10 litres of urine per day and should urinate about every five hours. If your horse is having difficulty stretching out to urinate or stands unevenly while doing so, this could be an indication of lameness, muscle soreness, or kidney issues.
Manure: Have you checked your horse’s manure? If not, it might be time to take a closer look. Horse manure should be a rich medium brown colour and should be a formation of small round balls that shatter when they hit the ground. Your horse should pass manure six to eight times per day. In the spring, when pasture is more lush, the manure can have a green tinge and be quite soft. It can also be a bit loose at times of stress, after excessive electrolyte administration, or if there has been a change in diet. If soft manure continues for more than a few days, you should consult your veterinarian. Manure that is actually runny or is soaking the underside of the tail may indicate an urgent problem, so your veterinarian should be called immediately. If your horse’s manure is comprised of dry round balls that stay formed when they hit the ground, this can be an indication that the horse is suffering from dehydration.
Temperature: The normal body temperature of a horse should be between 37.0 and 38.5 degrees Celsius (98.6 and 101.3 Fahrenheit). Body temperature can be elevated because of inflammation and infection, but don’t forget, that a horse’s temperature can also increase when exercising, when rugged, in hot weather, and when they are excited. Body temperature fluctuates during the day, and it is often slightly higher later in the day. In mares, temperature can be seen to fluctuates with their heat cycle.
Body temperature should be taken rectally, ideally with a digital thermometer. (You can purchase a digital thermometer from your local pharmacy). If you have never taken a horse’s temperature before, get your veterinarian/instructor etc. to show you how.
Heart Rate: (Pulse) The resting heart rate of a healthy horse should be between 32-40 beats per minute (bpm). Draft horses will have a slightly lower normal rate, and foals will have a much higher one, up to 60-100bpm. Newborns will be towards the upper end of the scale, while older foals will have lower heart rates under normal conditions. Again, heart rate is affected by excitement, exercise, heat, pain, inflammation, and stress.
To take the heart rate, place a stethoscope on the chest just behind the elbow on the left side of the horse. Count the beats for a full minute, if you can, or for 30 seconds and then multiply by two to get the heart rate per minute. If you don’t have a stethoscope, don’t worry. You can take the pulse by putting your finger on the mandibular artery, found running your finger across the underside of the jaw, just where it joins the cheek or in the groove under the jaw inside the cheek, the radial artery on the inside of the knee, or the digital arteries at the back and bottom of the fetlock and along both sides of the pastern, at 4 and 8 0’clock. Be sure to use your fingers as you might feel the pulse in your own thumb.
Respiration Rate: (breathing) Watch your horse breathing over a full minute. When it inhales and then exhales, it has taken one breath. The normal respiratory rate for an adult horse at rest is 8 to 12 breaths per minute. In contrast, a new born foal will breathe 60-80 times a minute, and an older foal will take 20-40 breaths. As with a horse’s temperature, the respiratory rate will also increase with exercise, excitement, and in hot weather.
You can use a few different techniques to count the respiratory rate. The simplest way is to stand near your horse’s shoulder, facing towards its hindquarters, and watch its abdomen move in and out (one breath). As an alternative, you can feel for the air coming out of the nostril on your hand. If you have a stethoscope, the best way may be to listen to the breath sounds as air passes through the trachea (windpipe). This will enable you to hear the quality of the sounds your horse makes when breathing. You might notice deep or shallow breaths, and you might hear unusual crackling or whistling sounds that are an indication that you should consult your veterinarian.
Mucous Membranes: The mucous membrane are the tissues that line the gums, inside of the mouth, inside of the eyelid, inside of the nostrils, and the sac in the corner of the eye. They should be pink in colour and moist to touch. If the gums are dry or tacky, this can be an indication that the horse is dehydrated. Check the colour of your horse’s gums. If they are white, dark red, blue, or yellow-tinged, call your veterinarian immediately! These changes in colour indicate serious health issues.
Capillary Refill Time: This gives a good indication of how well the horse’s circulatory system is working. (A normal capillary refill time indicates that blood and oxygen is moving efficiently around the body). Push your finger on the gum for a few seconds until the gum in that area goes white, then release. The area should return to its original pink colour, within two seconds, as the blood returns to the area. If it takes longer than two seconds to return to normal, or if the gums are any colour but pink, call your veterinarian.
Skin Pinch Test (Skin Tent): This is another test to check your horse’s hydration status. On the neck, or on the upper eyelid if you are able, pinch a piece of skin between your thumb and forefinger for a second. When you release the skin, it should return to normal within one second. If it stays pinched for more than a second, there is the possibility of dehydration. The skin tent performed on the neck can be affected by age and body condition, with older animals and thin animals having a slower skin tent than younger and thinner animals. In horses, unlike in humans, the loose skin above the eye isn’t as affected by age, and fat doesn’t really accumulate under the eyelid.
Gut Sounds: You will generally need a stethoscope to listen to your horse’s gut sounds, though by simply pressing your ear to your horse’s flank in the right place, you will likely hear some. Place your stethoscope on the belly, just behind the ribs and in front of the stifle, on both sides. The second place to listen is a little further straight up from there, about the width of your hand in front of the whorl and about a hand’s width below it. Depending on the size of your horse, the specific location varies, so ask your veterinarian to help. You should be able to hear fluid rushing, tinkling, squeaking, gurlgling or rumbling in all four areas, but you will likely hear less in the top left area than in the others. You must be patient to hear gut sounds as they are not continuous. Listen for a full minute in all four places. Ideally, we expect to hear the sounds of gut contents moving a couple of times a minute. Researchers have found that eating or drinking results in more food particles and fluid passing through the digestive tract and an increase in gut sounds. If the rumbling continues at a much higher rate than normal, it may indicate some underlying issue and a veterinarian should be consulted. If gut sounds are very infrequent or not present at all, this can be cause for concern as there may be a blockage. Call your veterinarian immediately. In general, a slightly more active gut is not serious while a quiet gut will always require urgent veterinary care. Check your horse’s stall/paddock/stable for manure as this is a good indication of how long it has been since the gut was working normally.
Hoof Wall Temperature: An easy health check for your horse is to feel each hoof to see how hot it is. Hoof walls should generally be cool to touch, however each horse will be different. Get to know how warm your own horse’s hooves are in a variety of conditions. Exercise and warm weather can cause them to have an increase in temperature, so mildly warmer feet are not always a problem. It is especially useful to compare the temperature of the feet to each other. If one foot is warmer than the other, that is reasonably reliable indication of inflammation in the warm foot. It may indicate a bruise, the start of a hoof abscess, coffin joint synovitis, or a fracture. Tip: Watch to see if all four feet dry at a similar speed. Warmer feet will dry faster. If both feet are unusually hot for the conditions, it may be an indication of laminitis. A sudden flare up of laminitis is always an emergency, so call your veterinarian immediately!
Digital Pulse: Another indication of inflammation in the foot is a digital pulse. The digital pulse can be found on the back of the fetlock at the base of the sesamoids. By gently pressing and sliding your fingers side to side at the back and base of the fetlock, you can often feel the firm digital artery, which supplies blood to the extremities, roll under your finger. Once you locate it, lighten the pressure slightly to feel the pulse through it. You can also feel the digital arteries as they continue along the pastern at 4 and 8 o’clock, and only light pressure is required to feel the pulse here. If the pulsing or throbbing is quite strong and you can feel it easily, this may actually be an abnormal digital pulse and your veterinarian may need to do some further investigation. The normal digital pulse is a tricky one to locate, and this can be even more difficult on fit, healthy horses. If you get the opportunity, ask your veterinarian or instructor to show you how to locate it and try to get familiar with how mild that pulse is when it is normal.
My mentor in veterinary college, the great Dr. Otto Radostis, began all of our Large Animal Medicine lectures with a bit of his personal philosophy. This was one piece of wisdom he tried to impart on us that I will always remember. He said, “You miss more for not looking than for not knowing”. The best thing you can do is observe your horse in their environment, each and every day. Run your hands over them from top to toe, and get comfortable with doing the extra checks listed above. Keep a record of everything you see and of the daily health parameters you measure. Keep the information in your first aid kit (read our First Aid Kit blog article by clicking here) or stable so you have easy access to it. Remember, the sooner you notice that something is amiss and contract your veterinarian, the better the outcome is likely to be. Also, the more information you can give the veterinarian about normal and abnormal for your horse, the easier it will be for them to accurately assess your ailing equine friend.
“You miss more for not looking than for not knowing.” Dr. Otto Radostits
Below is a story from Michele of New Lives Animal Rescue based in the Waikato, NZ. This organization was established in 2014 and is a Registered Charity that specializes in the rescuing and re-homing of dogs, puppies, cats kittens, horses and can accommodate other species where possible. Pro-Dosa International Ltd. is proud to be able to provide support to New Lives Animal Rescue. To see how well these rehabilitation cases are progressing with the help of Pro-Dosa BOOST is really very cool!
“Thank you so much Pro-Dosa for your wonderful ongoing support of New Lives Rescue horses. We just love your BOOST paste!
All our rescue horses are given your paste on arrival, we find it is a great pick me up tonic and shows an immediate difference.
We thought it might be an appropriate time to tell you about how incorporating Pro-Dosa BOOST into your final stages of preparation could benefit your horse when training, travelling and racing. Pro-Dosa BOOST contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids in balanced proportions to replace those essential nutrients loss during exercise and when under stress.
Horses under stress (through hard work, travel and racing etc.) have increased requirements for a broad complex of nutrients necessary to support metabolism, health, performance, and recovery. Unfortunately, when horses are under stress, they tend to go off their feed, resulting in reduced intake of essential nutrients just at the time they need more.
Horses have significantly increased requirements for B-vitamins at these times, and Pro-Dosa BOOST contains all of them in doses that are properly balanced with each other and with all of the other nutrients required for their absorption and function. B group vitamins play an important role in coat and skin condition, energy production (so tired or lethargic horses may get a lift), nerve cell function (so nervous horses may be better able to relax and focus), and red blood cell production. Most importantly, when horses are transported and then tabled in a new environment, they help to maintain normal appetite!
Pro-Dosa BOOST contains a sizable dose of Vitamin C which supports immune function and helps to protect muscle cells from oxidative damage that occurs in transport and training. (Did you know that oxidative muscle cell damage can occur in as little as one hour, as the horse works to keep itself balanced during transportation)? Horses will arrive at their destination in the best possible condition if given one full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST a couple of hours prior to loading them on the float each day. If you are leaving early in the morning, it can be given the night before instead.
If you have a nervous horse that does not settle into its new environment, try giving it half to one full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST each day. It contains as much Magnesium and Thiamine as many calming products, and these nutrients actually work better when given in combination with each other and with the amino acids, Tryptophan and Tyrosine, than when administered separately.
Pro-Dosa BOOST contains a broad range of electrolytes including calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as sodium, potassium, and chloride. These will help maintain normal hydration and the electrolyte balance necessary for muscle cell, cardiac, and nerve function. Once horses are dehydrated, however, electrolytes will fail to stimulate thirst. When that occurs, unassembled amino acids stimulate thirst more effectively.
Pro-Dosa BOOST contains 22 unassembled, rapidly-absorbable amino acids in the optimal ratios required for protein synthesis and muscle development. Muscle cells take up amino acids most efficiently for about an hour following hard work. Providing a full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST as quickly as possible after the last hit out prior to racing will aid muscle cell repair and recovery, ensuring horses will be in top condition on race day. A full or a half tube fed regularly after each fast work can help your horse to recover well, maintain normal body condition, and perform consistently over the long racing season ahead.
When race day comes around, give one full tube of Pro-Dosa BOOST on the tongue the night before or mix it in with feed.
We wish you the very best of luck over this fantastic racing carnival. if you require any further information. Contact the team at Pro-Dosa International.
Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is a term that covers the damage and ulceration of the stomach lining in the horse. EGUS is a very prevalent disease affecting horses. EGUS is found in up to 90% of all race horses and endurance horses. The incidence of EGUS in sporthorses can also be as high as 60%.
The Stomach and Digestion Process.
The stomach is small relative to the size of the digestive tract of the horse and has a small role in the digestion process to help further liquefy food particles as they pass through to the small intestine.
The stomach has two distinct areas the non-glandular section which is located the top one third of the stomach and has the same thin, smooth wall lining as the oesophagus. The glandular section of the stomach is the remaining two thirds of the stomach its wall lining is made up of glands which secrete hydrochloric acid, pepsin, bicarbonate and mucous.
The Equine Stomach showing the Glandular & Nonglandular Sections
Richards, Elenor – Equine Stomach, Nutrition for Maximum Performance
The horse is unique in that it continuously secretes hydrochloric acid to break down food particles. It also produces the enzyme pepsin that helps break down proteins. It is these gastric acids that ultimately damage the non-glandular region of the stomach as this area has thin, smooth walls which are not protected by glands as found in the glandular region of the stomach.
The time it takes for feeds to be digested in the stomach varies with the type of feed, forage or grain and the size of the meal. Grain can take as little as ten minutes to pass through the stomach and forage can take up to 24 hours so the stomach has little time to empty and hydrochloric acid is being used to break down food particles.
To address EGUS, our aim is to neutralise the stomach acid and the horse has its own neutralising agent bicarbonate which is produced in its saliva. As a horse chews it produces saliva the more time it chews the greater the amount of saliva thus bicarbonate produced. The bicarbonate then reacts with to neutralize the gastric acids.
It is important that all stable staff know the horses that are in their care so they are able to determine when there has been a change in their behaviour, eating habits, weight loss etc which could well mean the early detection of EGUS.
Clinical Signs of EGUS
The following are clinical signs that different studies have found can indicate EGUS.
- Horse cast or lying on its back
- Grinding its Teeth
- Poor Performance
- Weight Loss and Poor Body Condition
- Dull or poor coat
- Colic (Abdominal Pain)
- Changes in attitude and behaviour
- Poor Appetite
The only way to absolutely diagnose EGUS is by gastroscopy which is a long endoscope with a light and camera that is passed into the stomach via nostril and eosphogus to identify any ulcerations or damage to the stomach lining.
Management & Nutrition
- Provide high quality forage ad-lib, 1 kg of forage requires the horse to chew approximately 3000 times producing high quantities of saliva and bicarbonate to help neutralise gastric acid. Alfalfa high in protein 21% and calcium is ideal as there are buffering qualities provided by the calcium.
- Provide Water ad-lib at all times – water is required to produce saliva and studies show horses who are intermittently without water are more susceptible to ulcers.
- Keep horses on pasture 24/7 if at all feasible, as they are grazers and can do so for up to 18 hours per day and this will help keep feed passing through the stomach working to neutralize gastric acids.
- If horses are stall confined, make sure they can see other horses and can socialise to reduce stress. Give them a ball or something else to keep them amused and free from boredom.
- Feed smaller feeds more often, due to labour and time constraints many stables make the mistake of only feeding horses twice a day, which means the horse can go without feed for a period greater than six hours which studies suggest increases the likelihood of EGUS. Horses were designed to graze throughout the day not eat once or twice.
- Start with forage and build the diet from there adding a vitamin and mineral balancer then adding energy sources to meet requirements of the horse. Remember you can add fats such as oils to replace grain.
- If the horse bolts its feed place rocks in its feeder to try and slow its feeding rate down making it chew the feed, which means it takes more time for the feed to pass through the stomach.
- Transportation is a cause of EGUS – to help eliminate this break up longer travel periods to allow for rest, feed and water. Provide a travel companion to help alleviate stress.
- Performance horses are more susceptible to EGUS as they are often fasted prior to racing or competing, this needs to be addressed by the stable so the stomach does not completely empty out.
- Grains and or concentrates should never make up more than 1 – 2 kg of any meal given to the horse. Especially if it contains Sweetfeeds as these contain VFAs (volatile fatty acids) which can cause damage to the non-glandular stomach lining.
- Turning the horse out on pasture with access to quality forage for a period of a month will most likely allow the healing of any stomach ulcers, however this may not be practical for performance horses.
- The only registered treatment for the treatment of ulcers is Omeprozole (Gatroguard or Ulcerguard).
- There are other solutions available that line the stomach to help reduce the pain associated from ulcers.
If you require a PDF version of this fact sheet please click here and we will send one to you.
For more information read Dr Jenny Stewart “Update on Ulcers“
- Cubitt, Tanya. PhD,The Horse’s Digestive System,Hygain Health & Nutrition Articles
- Sykes, B.W., Hewetson, M., Hepburn, R.J., Luthersson, N. and Tamzali, Y. (2015), European College of Equine Internal Medicine Consensus Statement—Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Adult Horses. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 29: 1288–1299. doi: 10.1111/jvim.13578
- Andrews, Frank. M. DVM, MS, DACVIM,American Association of Equine Practitioners,Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (16 June 20216),Website – Horse Health Publication 816
- Lesté-Lasserre, Christa. MA,TheHorse.com,Got Ulcers? (1 February 2014),Website – Article 33283
- Merck Veterinary Manual,Gastric Ulcers in Horses: Gastrointestinal Ulcers in Large Animals
- McClure, Scott. R, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS, Diplomate ACVSMR, American Association of Equine Practitioners,Equine Gastric Ulcers: Special Care and Nutrition,Website – Horse Health Publication 817 (January, 2016)
- Geor, Ray. J. DVM, PhD.,American Association of Equine Practitioners,How Horses Digest Feed,Website – Horse Health Publication 861 (February, 2016)
- Liburt, Nettie. PhD, MS,TheHorse.com,Tips for Managing Gastric Ulcers in Performance Horses,Website – Articles 37542 (9 May 2016)
- Drs. Foster & Smith,Gastric Ulcers in Horses: Causes, Signs, and Treatments,Website – Article 1587
- Niteo, Jorge. DVM, PhD, DACVS,Centre for Equine Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis,Diagnosing and Treating Gastric Ulcers in Horses,CEH Horse Report (October 2012)
- Kentucky Equine Research,Gastric Ulcers in Horses – A widespread but Manageable Disease,Vetzone,Article (June 2012)