Feeding the Horse with Equine Grass Sickness

Equine Grass Sickness (EGS) is a disease of horses, ponies and donkeys which causes damage to the nervous system, resulting in paralysis of the gut. It is usually fatal.

What Causes Grass Sickness?

The exact cause of grass sickness is still not known, but there is evidence to suggest the cause is Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria are found in the soil and can be consumed when the horse is grazing. The bacteria can build up in the gut and begin to release toxins, which affect the horse’s nervous system. The prevalence of the disease appears to be greatest in horses aged between 2-7 years old and occurs in most parts of the UK. The peak incidence occurs predominantly during spring and summer.

What are the Clinical Signs?

There are three forms of grass sickness – acute, subacute and chronic – with the acute form being most severe.

  • Acute grass sickness – horses display signs of colic as they are affected by complete gut paralysis. Other signs include muscle tremors and inability to eat.
  • Subacute grass sickness – horses display clinical signs similar to acute grass sickness but with less severity
  • Chronic grass sickness – horses suffer severe and rapid weight loss and a select portion of these cases may survive

Diagnosis of equine grass sickness requires an examination by a veterinarian.

Feeding the horse with Equine Grass Sickness

The main aim is to use feeds that are easy to chew, highly digestible and palatable to the horse. Ideally, a diet high in energy and protein should be supplied to try and restore the weight and condition that is inevitably lost.

Turning the feed into a slurry or gruel often helps and so feeds that lend themselves to this are ideal. Pelleted feeds have a small particle size and when water is added can be turned into a gruel-like relatively easily. Cooked cereal meal can be a useful way of supplying lots of highly digestible energy in an easy to chew and swallow form. Soaked fibre feeds such as Dengie Alfa-Beet are also ideal for supplying highly digestible fibre that is easy to eat.

Using a digestive supplement is also recommended – Dengie suggest using scFOS prebiotics specifically, as anecdotal reports suggest it is helpful in combatting Clostridium species of bacteria. Dengie Digestive Health Plus contains scFOS prebiotics and so would be suitable to use.

Dengie products that may be helpful for horses with grass sickness

Alfa-Beet combines alfalfa with unmolassed sugar beet and is a highly digestible and easy to chew soaked feed.

Hi-Fi Senior combines alfalfa and soft grasses with a molasses and rape seed oil coating, making it highly digestible and easy to chew. Hi-Fi Senior can be fed ab lib as a total forage replacer if required. The short chop length makes it easier to chew than hay or haylage.

Healthy Tummy is a complete, high-calorie feed containing the latest ingredients known to promote gut health, including alfalfa. Healthy Tummy combines chopped and pelleted alfalfa with an oil coating, Protexin In-Feed Formula and a unique blend of herbs including oregano, cinnamon and ginger.

Alfalfa Pellets contain pure high temperature dried alfalfa and are an excellent way of providing fibre in a concentrated form. For example, 1 Stubbs scoop of Alfa-A Original holds 0.4kg whereas a Stubbs scoop of Alfalfa Pellets holds 1.6kg.

For more information about any of our feeds, or if you would like samples to do a palatability test, don’t hesitate to contact our friendly Feedline team on 0845 345 5115 or use the LiveChat option at the top of the page to talk live to a nutritionist.

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