Equine Nutrition Counseling Services Have Positive Impact
Despite a steadily growing amount of research in the field of equine nutrition, less-than-ideal feeding practices continue to be a problem for horses in a variety of scenarios. From too little forage to too much concentrate and everything in between, horses’ diets can cause a number of health problems. However, a clinical nutritional counseling (CNC) service or an independent equine nutritionist could benefit veterinarians, owners, and horses alike, according to results from a recently conducted a retrospective study.

A group of Italian researchers investigated the most common reasons for referral to the University of Turin Veterinary Hospital’s CNC service.

The team reviewed 61 referral cases, consisting of horses of varied ages and breeds. CNC consultants assessed horses’ body condition, weight, teeth, and chewing capacity. Horse owners provided information on their current feeding programs, as well as information regarding each horse’s housing, medical conditions, medications, vaccination status, and deworming program.

The researchers found the most common reason for referral was related to specific medical problems (67.2%), with chronic weight loss (CWL), chronic diarrhea (CD), and equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) occurring most frequently.

For all conditions, the CNC service recommended shortening intervals between feeding, reducing starch intake, and feeding a forage-based diet.

“I strongly believe in the saying ‘no gut, no horse,’ ” said researcher Emanuela Valle, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECVCN of the University of Torino. “If we do not feed (horses) according to their herbivorous nature, we can predispose them to many medical and behavioral problems.”

Most horses with CWL (19.7%) had age-associated dental problems, though some had insufficient caloric intake, nutritional deficiencies, or endoparasitism. Nutritionists suggested treating the underlying cause first. Other recommendations included:

  • Adding alternative energy sources, such as vegetable oils;
  • Providing good-quality forage (70-80% of diet) as hay, pellets, and pasture turnout, if possible;
  • Offering small quantities of “super-fibers” such as beet pulp or soya hulls; and
  • Balancing the diet with vitamins and minerals.

For horses with CD (13.1%), the CNC recommendations included:

  • Avoiding forages rich in sugars, starch, or fructan;
  • Ensuring appropriate turnout;
  • Adding pelleted hay (fed at 40:60 ratio, pelleted to long-stem hay) to the diet; and
  • Offering probiotics such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

For horses with EGUS (13.1%), the CNC recommendations included:

  • Utilizing slow-feed haynets when free-choice forage feeding is not possible;
  • Ensuring appropriate pasture turnout;
  • Adding alfalfa pellets to the diet; and
  • Providing a nutraceutical with buffering agents.

Valle said in the study that follow-up evaluations revealed “good” results in 92% cases and “poor” outcomes in the remaining cases.

“In summary, the CNC service could provide an epidemiological observatory to study the prevalence of nutritional issues in the equine population,” she said.

The study, “Clinical nutrition counselling service in the veterinary hospital: retrospective analysis of equine patients and nutritional considerations,” was published in Journal of Animal Physiological Animal Nutrition.