How old is old?
Horses are living longer but are often healthier for longer too and so just because a horse or pony is in their twenties or even their thirties, it doesn’t mean their nutritional requirements have changed. If they are still holding their weight well and can eat without any problem – as many native ponies in their thirties can, there is no need to make any changes. However, for those that are starting to show signs of old age, a few key adjustments can help them continue in good condition for many years to come. Loose, worn and missing teeth are a common problem for veterans and as forage should make up at least half of every horse’s diet, it is no surprise that when they simply can’t eat it as easily any more, weight loss and colic can occur.
PPID is another issue that is associated with age. Previously known as Cushings Syndrome, PPID or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, is a degenerative endocrine disorder that disrupts the control of hormones produced in the pituitary gland. Horses and ponies with PPID are predisposed to laminitis and so their diet and management should reflect this.
If your pony hasn’t had laminitis to date then it is likely that not being able to consume enough forage is the most pressing issue as weight loss will soon ensue if this isn’t addressed. It is also much harder to put weight back on an older animal compared with trying to maintain it. A grass and alfalfa based chopped fibre feed such as Hi-Fi Senior would be a good base to start with alongside some soaked Alfa-Beet which is very low in sugar and starch so will help to bring the overall sugar intake down. Although Hi-Fi Senior does contain grass, the overall sugar content is comparable with a grass hay so presents no greater risk than using hay.
For horses and ponies with a history of laminitis, feeds such as Hi-Fi Molasses Free mixed with Alfalfa Pellets or high fibre cubes can be a lower sugar option than those based on grass. However, they won’t be as digestible and so a horse or pony may not do so well on them which may require some additional oil to be added to help maintain bodyweight safely.
When a horse or pony has multiple issues then we have to establish which is the greatest or most imminent threat to their health and welfare. Historically, the advice for horses with liver disease has been to avoid oil as an energy source and keep protein levels low. As your horse has had laminitis in the past, oil would be a safer energy source to use in preference to cereals which contain lots of starch. More recent advice such as that by Andy Durham writing in Equine Applied and Clinical Nutrition suggests that inclusion of oil at 0.1ml/kg bodyweight is perfectly acceptable for horses with liver disease and that levels up to 1ml/kg bodyweight might be required to safely maintain or promote weight gain.
With regard to protein intake, it’s most definitely a case of low protein but not no protein as protein is needed as part of the immune system, hormones and building tissues such as muscle. Although the level of protein in pure alfalfa feeds often looks high and deters people from using it, it is important to consider that a large Stubbs scoop only holds 400grams of Alfa-A Oil so the actual amount of protein supplied is not excessive by any means. Given that alfalfa is so low in sugar and starch naturally, it is a really useful way to help horses maintain their weight, particularly those with a history of laminitis. Therefore, feeds such as Alfa-A Oil are suitable when used in moderation for your horse.
Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) is a degenerative endocrine disorder that disrupts the control of hormones produced in the pituitary gland.
When horses are stabled hay and haylage are often their main fibre source. The long length of these forages can sometimes cause a veteran horse problems as their teeth become less efficient.
Poor dentition is not just a problem for older horses; diastemas, the abnormal gaps between teeth, are being diagnosed more frequently in horses of all ages and they require careful dietary management to ensure that further problems don't occur.
Although laminitis is potentially a problem at any time of year, autumn often sees a seasonal spike in the incidence rates and so extra vigilance is required. If your horse is prone to laminitis, there are two main pieces of advice that are given – maintain your horse at a healthy weight and restrict his intake of sugar and starch.
In order to understand how to feed a horse with liver disease, it is important to know what some of the key roles of the liver are. The liver is a highly active organ and so has a large energy requirement. The aim is to provide what the horse requires without stressing the liver too much; in other words try to meet but not exceed what is required.
Nothing says 'Cushing's' more than a tell-tale long, curly coat and recurring bouts of crippling laminitis. It's the most common hormonal disorder to affect older horses. Here are five simple steps that the nutrition team have complied to help ensure your Cushing's sufferer stays fit and healthy.