Feeding Horses With ERS and Muscle Related Problems
Feeding Horses with ERS?
Although many of you have heard of Azoturia or Tying-Up, you may not have heard of the new names for these diseases such as ERS and EPSM. These names reflect the progress that is being made in understanding more about the disease but have caused some confusion amongst horse-owners. This article should help you to understand more about the disease and how to manage it should your horse be affected.
ERS or EPSM?
Equine Rhabdomyolysis Syndrome (ERS) and Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM) both affect the horse's (equine) muscles (myo) but in different ways. Lysis means the disintegration of a cell and so from the name ERS it is possible to conclude that the problem is a disintegration of the muscle cells. The relevant part of PSSM is the polysaccharide storage element. This refers to the sugars that are stored in the muscle cells as glycogen. This disease is literally a problem with the glycogen storage in the horse's muscle cells.
Why Does it Happen?
The simple answer is that this still isn't fully understood. What is known is that it is likely that the problem is multi-factorial and that there is a genetic element or predisposition to the problem. Some of the contributing factors that are well known are diet and exercise but fewer people are aware that hormones and viral infections can also be involved.
How Do I Know if My Horse Has This Problem?
The factors that trigger the two problems usually vary. For PSSM the symptoms can be as subtle as a slightly shortened stride length but may be as obvious as a complete inability to move. An important factor that usually differentiates it from ERS is that the problem occurs at slow speeds, in other words the horse could be walking along when it is affected. PSSM is thought to be most likely to affect heavy breeds such as draughts or warmbloods. In contrast, ERS is most common in Thoroughbreds or horses with an element of Thoroughbred in their breeding. This disease generally affects horses when they're working at speed and symptoms usually include cramping and stiffness.
If your horse is showing any of these symptoms then you should call your Vet. A blood test will usually reveal high muscle enyzymes demonstrating that muscles have been damaged. For a definitive diagnosis for PSSM muscle biopsies are usually required.
As it is known that the stores of glycogen in the muscles are responsible, the aim is to eliminate cereals from the diet completely so that further glycogen does not aggravate the problem. A diet of fibre and oil is therefore recommended. Dengie ALFA-A OIL is the ideal feed for this situation as it combines alfalfa with soya oil and is completely cereal free. It has an energy level equivalent to a medium energy mix and so should support a horse in medium to hard work. ALFA-A OIL also contains vitamin E for its antioxidant properties but it is advisable to use a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement, such as Dengie NATURAL VITALITY PERFORMANCE VITS & MINS, alongside ALFA-A OIL to ensure the diet is balanced.
It is believed that ERS occurs due to a calcium irregularity within the muscle cells, however it is important to consider that this is not thought to be related to dietary calcium. The general principles of managing a horse with ERS are to keep the diet as low in starch and sugars as possible as overfeeding seems to be a contributing factor. Fibre and oil are therefore ideal alternatives and can make a significant contribution to the horse's energy requirements. The horse's workload will influence what type of diet is suitable for horses with ERS as many will be in hard work doing racing or eventing for example. It is therefore advisable to contact Dengie for specific feeding advice on 0845 345 5115.
There are lots of things you can do to try and reduce the risk of ERS or EPSM occurring:
- Where possible feed a high fibre, low sugar and starch diet
- Ensure you are feeding a 'balanced' diet, so if you are feeding less than the manufacturers recommended amount of mix or cubes, or a fibre diet, add a good broad-spectrum supplement such as Dengie Natural Vitality Leisure Vits & Mins
- Keep stress to a minimum
- For recurrent ERS sufferers try to keep a diary of each attack which may allow you to notice a pattern, such as at a certain time during a mare's reproductive cycle or certain weather conditions
- Consider using oil, rather than cereals for extra calories, in the form of soya or corn oil, an oil coated chaff such as Dengie ALFA-A OIL.
- Ensure you warm-up and cool down sufficiently
- Do not increase concentrates in preparation for extra work, wait until the work has been done.
- Reduce concentrates when the horse is having time off, even if only for one day
- Allow regular turn-out, particularly when the horse is not being exercised
- Keep work intensity and duration consistent
- Feed salt daily for working horses and electrolytes when necessary
- If there is any sign of viral infection on the yard, reduce workload immediately
- Always seek veterinary advice, particularly for recurrent or severe attacks.
Suitable Dengie Feed
Dengie have a range of feeds suitable for horses with ERS or PSSM. If you need advice on which is most suitable for your horse please contact us on 0845 345 5115 and we will be happy to help.
- Blend of alfalfa and oat straw with a low sugar coating
- Low sugar chaff
- Pure alfalfa with a low sugar coating
- Similar energy to a pasture mix or cube
- Pure alfalfa with soya oil and added
- Vitamin E antioxidant
- Similar energy level to a conditioning or competition feed
- High fibre, low sugar and starch conditioning feed
- Blend of alfalfa and unmolassed sugarbeet
DENGIE NATURAL VITALITY PERFORMANCE VITS & MINS
- High spec broad-spectrum supplement
- Designed to be fed with an alfalfa based diet
- Ideal for working horses.
HI-FI MOLASSES FREE
Contains a combination of chopped alfalfa and straw with alfalfa and straw pellets. A soya oil coating is used and mint and fenugreek herbs are added for enhanced palatability. The sugar content is only 2.5% which is naturally present in the raw materials. No artificial flavours or preservatives are used in this feed.
ALFA-A MOLASSES FREE
Combines chopped and pelleted alfalfa with soya oil and mint and fenugreek. A medium energy level means that Alfa-A Molasses Free is ideal for those that need help to maintain their bodyweight or horses and ponies in work. The sugar content is only 4.5% which is naturally present in the raw materials. No artificial flavours or preservatives are used in this feed.
Diet is believed to play a major role in the management of ERS, and although there are different types of ERS, similar principles apply to all currently diagnosed forms. Ideally susceptible horses should be fed on a 'balanced' fibre based diet, with the oil being used as an additional fuel source where necessary to keep the cereal (starch) level to a minimum. It can also be advisable to avoid high sugar feed, including spring grass.