Alternative Feeding Strategies For Horses With Digestive Disorders

A horse’s digestive system can influence the rest of the body, changing the way your horse behaves and performs. It’s because of this that we need to be aware of how to feed a horse correctly in line with its individual needs, in a way that is going to keep its gut microbiome healthy and balanced. A range of factors can disrupt the horse’s digestive process resulting in a range of issues and diseases. A change of diet is often required as part of the ongoing management of these issues and removing cereal-based feeds with high-fibre feed is usually one of the core changes that need to be made.

Feeding a horse with EGUS

EGUS – or equine gastric ulcer syndrome – is an umbrella term for stomach ulcers which can be subdivided into those affecting the different areas of the horse’s stomach.

The horse has two parts of the stomach, which is made up of a non-glandular section, and a glandular section which is where the acid is produced. Both areas of the stomach are vulnerable to ulceration but have different causes.

In the non-glandular or squamous area, ulcers tend to occur as a result of horse supplements like low-fibre diets which are exacerbated by high levels of cereals being fed. An additional contributing factor is exercising when the stomach is empty. This allows the acidic contents of the stomach to splash around causing damage to the stomach lining. The horse doesn’t have any built-in protection in the squamous region of the stomach and so normally relies on the presence of food to stop the acid splashing around.

So, how can you feed a horse suffering from squamous ulcers? You should avoid diets that are high in starch and ensure your horse is provided with plenty of forage.  Reducing the time they are without access to forage is also important – the chewing associated with eating produces saliva which helps to buffer acidity levels in the stomach.  Feeding your horse before exercise is important to reduce the risk of acid splash and including alfalfa in the ration helps to provide extra buffering to acidity.

All of this advice applies to horses with glandular ulcers too but in addition,  studies indicate additional rest days and  reducing your horses’ exposure to stressful situations  Are also beneficial

Feeding a horse with Colic

horse food

Colic is a general term used to describe abdominal pain and discomfort which can be caused by a multitude of factors including parasites, displacement of the gut itself as well as inappropriate horse feed.

All horses are vulnerable to colic which is why the basic rules of feeding have been established over many years. As a general principle, the closer you can keep your horse’s diet to what he would consume naturally, the lower the risk of colic and that means supplying a diet high in fibre and reducing reliance on cereal-based feeds.

Horses with higher energy requirements can be fed high-quality fibres to try to keep the amount of cereal-based feeds down. Alfalfa Sugar beet, soya hulls and rice bran are all ingredients used more widely now instead of resorting to cereals. Feeds that are high in oil are also preferable to all high-starch concentrates.

Digestive aids such as prebiotics and probiotic yeast can also be used to maintain a healthy gut and better equip your horse to cope with stress.

Reducing the risk of digestive disorders

Here are a few tips from the basic rules of feeding to help reduce the risk of digestive upsets:

  • High-fibre diet: Fibre is essential for maintaining that all-important gut microbiome so feeding your horse a diet high in easily digestible fibre is a good basis to rations for all horses. Access to good quality forage and pasture is ideal.
  • Gradual changes: ensure that you change your horse’s diet gradually to reduce the risk of any disruption to the gut that could lead to colic or digestive upset. Ensure you do this over 7-10 days.
  • Small and frequent: Horses are herbivores and soheir digestive system has evolved to thrive on an almost continuous supply of low nutritional value feed. responds well to this type of feeding. Small, frequent meals can reduce the risk of digestive upsets if you do need to supplement their forage.
  • Clean water: It’s not just food that can cause issues in horses, but lack of water too. Dehydration can lead to a range of digestive issues – providing plenty of clean water is essential for keeping your horse happy and healthy.

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