feeding practices at U.S. equine veterinary hospitals

Proper nutrition and a balanced diet are important components in keeping horses healthy. But nutrition is even more critical when a horse’s health has been compromised, such as during serious illness or after surgery. In such cases, many horses stay at equine veterinary facilities to receive around-the-clock care, but recent study results suggest some clinics might not be placing enough emphasis on nutrition during horses’ hospital stays.

“I was surprised at the number of equine veterinary hospitals that did not have specific nutritional protocols in place for conditions such as laminitis, colic, tying-up, etc.,” said equine researcher Jo-Anne Murray, PhD, MSc, PgDip, PgCert, BSc (Hons), BHSII, RNutr, PFHEA, associate dean of digital education at the University of Glasgow College of Medical, Veterinary, and Life Sciences, in Scotland.

Murray and colleagues sent out 115 surveys to U.S. veterinary hospitals, and 24 facilities responded. While 79% of respondents reported taking rehabilitative status and type of surgery/ disorder into consideration when deciding feed types, 21% of respondents reportedly fed all patients the same type of feed, despite their condition.

Additionally, the researchers found that:

  • All respondents fed forage (some even providing pasture turnout);
  • Colic surgery was the most common reason a horse would require a specific nutritional protocol (33%); and
  • Only 58% of hospitals consulted a nutritional adviser for their patients.

The researchers said these findings concerned them.

“If you change a horse’s diet too quickly, it can result in gastrointestinal issues,” said Murray. “Equally, if you do not feed a diet appropriate for the clinical condition, that can have an impact on recovery.”

The team believes further work is needed to evaluate feeding practices in veterinary establishments and to understand veterinarians’ perspectives on equine nutrition.

“We either have to make space in the veterinary curriculum to provide more nutritional training in vet schools or to encourage veterinarians to engage with equine nutritionists in the same way they would work with other allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists and farriers,” said Murray.

The study, “Equine nutrition: A preliminary investigation of feeding practices in equine veterinary hospitals in the USA,” was published in Annals of Clinical Nutrition.