Ask Horse Journal: 09/06

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Feeding Senior Horses

Are you planning to do any articles on the many senior feeds coming on the market' I have a 19-year-old navicular mare that is too heavy and receives little feed, pasture and some hay. Lately, she has slowed down and at times seems depressed. Her pasture mate is a 24-year-old mare that is in good shape. Other than what the different manufacturers claim, I have never seen an independent analysis. My other concern is that manufacturers are just putting a senior label on the same old feed.

The major difference between senior feeds and regular feeds is usually that the grains in senior feeds are more highly processed to make them more easily digestible, and fiber content is often higher, to allow them to be used as a complete feed if need be. The higher fiber in senior feeds usually comes from beet pulp or alfalfa. The higher the fiber content, the less calorie-dense the feed will be in most cases (e.g. compared to plain grains), but this is often offset by the addition of fat and by fact the grains are highly processed. If your mare is overweight, she doesn’t really need a senior feed, and you would be better off meeting her mineral needs with a mineral or protein and mineral supplement appropriate for your area, pasture grasses and hay type. A grazing muzzle might even be in order. The cause of her slowing down and seeming depressed should be investigated by your vet.

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Jiaogulan For Lungs

I used Jiaogulan for the horrible laminitis/founder vaccine reaction we had last year, but we have another horse with respiratory allergies that I feed Spirulina with good results, and I wanted to know more about the research behind Jiaogulan for lung allergies. 

Briefly, respiratory problems are one of the traditional, ”folk” uses for Jiaogulan. A study in guinea pigs with lung allergies found it was effective in preventing bronchospasm caused by exposure to either histamine or allergens. If you’re getting good results with Spirulina, there’s no particular reason to add it, but if your horse is still having problems, especially while being worked, the combination might work better for you. You can get Jiaogulan at www.herbalcom.com 888-649-3931.

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Bucking Problem

I purchased a three-year-old Paint mare a year ago. She had no training and was starved and abused. She looks wonderful now, and her attitude has improved. However, I sent her to a horse trainer. She did well for the first three weeks and then started bucking for no reason. It looked like a rodeo. She’s been checked by the vet, and there are no health problems. I’m puzzled as to why she’s bucking and what to do about it.

There’s no way to determine why your horse is bucking without seeing the situation first-hand, but we can offer some suggestions. Sometimes a horse will have gotten scared, and suddenly they’re dealing with a fear that we may not be able to identify. Often these horses are also headshy, so helping her past headshyness would be a good start. Sometimes horses who have a history of abuse haven’t learned how to handle their emotions. These horses are compliant when they’re underfed, but when they get their strength back, they overreact, because they never learned good manners.

Regardless of the reason, the solution is to back up in the training to before the horse bucks. There’s a hole someplace that needs to be filled. Don’t let the horse get in the habit of bucking, or she’s likely to think that’s what she’s supposed to do. Ask your trainer not to punish her for bucking, but instead ask her for small tasks that she can do, and build on those using repetition. That way she gets really solid in some basics before you put her back in the situation in which she bucked. She’ll build her confidence and she’ll learn to handle her emotions better.

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Vitamin A Toxicity

In your April issue you mention that too much vitamin A can be toxic for horses. How much is too much for a horse'

The Spirulina supplement I’m feeding includes 33,330 IU of vitamin A, which sounds like a lot. I’m really concerned. My mare has been on it for about a month now, and she seems lethargic and quite not herself. In people it says symptoms are muscle pain and weakness. I couldn’t find much information about horses.

The vitamin A activity in Spirulina is all in the form of plant carotenes, pigments that can be converted to vitamin A. There’s no known toxicity of plant carotenes in horses, and horses on pasture consume huge amounts of them with no problems. Alfalfa hay is also extremely high. Toxicity is only a concern when feeding preformed vitamin A. We’d be looking for another possible cause of your mare’s not feeling well.

The symptoms of vitamin A toxicity in horses include bone fragility, enlargement of the bones and formation of bone osteophytes (”spurs”), skin changes (peeling), poor coat, muscle wasting and possibly seizures.

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Oats And Hay

I’m feeding plain old oats and hay. My horse is glossy, fat and energetic. Everyone says I need to feed supplements, like a vitamin one and a coat one. I don’t understand why. He’s doing great. I can’t get the hay analyzed because I get a few bales at a time from the feed store. It’s timothy. I’m just a pleasure rider who doesn’t overwork my horse. Should I worry about selenium'

Horses in light work often do quite well with handling minor mineral deficiencies or imbalances. There’s certainly no need to feed a coat supplement to a horse that has a healthy coat. Most vitamins don’t need to be supplemented in your type of situation either. You should talk to your vet, a nutritionist or your state agricultural department’s equine extension specialist about selenium and other mineral concerns. If your horse’s diet is likely deficient in selenium or other minerals you would be wise to take care of this. Mineral deficiencies may not be problematic until your horse is challenged in some way, such as an injury or infection. At that point they may have an impact on his immune response or ability to heal.

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Breathing Difficulties

What can I do to make my horse breathe more easily' He doesn’t seem to have heaves, judging from the movement of his ribcage, but he does at times get a snotty nose and coughs a lot when we first start riding, as if he’s trying to clear something out.

Your vet should check him out first to make sure he doesn’t have a chronic infection somewhere such as the sinuses or gutteral pouches. If that’s not the case, it sounds like he may be suffering from allergies/oversensitivity to lung irritants. Many of these horses respond well to Spirulina or Spirulina and Jiaogulan in combination, or you can talk to your vet about drug options.

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Mineral Rations

I’m trying to work out an optimum diet for my three horses but am stumped by how to handle copper/iron, copper/zinc and copper/manganese ratios. Feeding 4 lbs. of Triple Crown 10% Performance and 22 lbs. of a timothy/grass mix hay daily I have 2380 mg iron. To balance copper, I’d need to increase it from 108 mg to 595 mg, which I’m sure must skew the other copper ratios.

I see in your July 2005 mineral article that most hay/supplement combos give 10 times the target amount for iron. Is this amount considered excessive' How dangerous is excess iron' Should I increase copper to match the 1:4 ratio with iron' Do the same with any other minerals whose ratios may then be off' Or should I just watch calcium/phosphorus and calcium/magnesium'

My horses are 3, 11 and 19 years of age, on maintenance over the winter. Also, I’ve read that feeding a mix of alfalfa and grass hays balances the major mineral profile. When I figured out how much calcium I’d be feeding just adding one (3-lb.) flake of alfalfa I was surprised. Phosphorus and magnesium would both need supplementation.

The level of iron in your total diet works out to about 200 ppm, certainly much more than required but not that unusual a level.

While the 4:1 ratio, which is based on estimated minimum requirements for iron and copper is probably ideal, in reality, healthy horses seem to do fine on levels up to10:1, assuming intakes of other trace minerals are adequate. In your case, this would mean bringing your copper intake up to about 240 mg/day, then also increasing the zinc and manganese to keep those ratios in line with copper.

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Devil’s Claw’s Closer To Aspirin Than Bute, But Effective All The Same

The herb devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), in products like Equine America’s B-L Solution liquid and Uckele’s Devil’s Claw Plus powder, has been a perennial favorite of ours for relief of pain and inflammation. Because naturally occurring substances can’t be patented, they tend to be the stepchild when it comes to research dollars. However, it was established in 2003 that devil’s claw extracts can inhibit production of inflammatory prostaglandins and Cox-2. Cox-2 is the inflammatory cytokine that drugs like phenylbutazone and the new-generation human anti-inflammatory drugs, like Celebrex, target.

The most recent study on devil’s claw, in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, has found that rather than directly inhibiting Cox-2 production like bute and other NSAIDs do, it exerts its effect downstream, by inhibition of another inflammatory cytokine called nuclear factor kappa B. This is important because it means that devil’s claw works like aspirin, not like bute. This means that, like aspirin, it shouldn’t have the negative effects on circulation and healing that other NSAIDs have.