Feeding Horses With Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (ER)

Exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER) has affected horses for over 100 years and although there are now known to be numerous causes, the common clinical signs are muscle pain and cramping which are usually triggered by exercise. Recent studies and research have brought us to the following names or descriptions:

Sporadic ER

Caused by over-training, muscle strain, dietary deficiencies of electrolytes, vitamin E or selenium and exercising when suffering from viral infections

Chronic ER

An underlying inherited abnormality such as polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) in Quarter Horses, Warmbloods and Draft breeds or recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER) in Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Arabians predisposes the horse to muscle problems. Other contributing factors are usually required to trigger clinical signs.

How do I know if my horse has a problem?

The most obvious symptom is the cramping or seizing of muscles causing the horse to find moving difficult. Symptoms can be subtle such as a shortening of the stride or as extreme as a complete inability to move. The frequency of the problem can also vary depending on the cause of the problem. Nearly all occurrences happen during exercise.

If your horse is showing any of these symptoms you should call your Vet. A blood test will usually reveal high muscle enzymes demonstrating that muscles have been damaged. For a definitive diagnosis for PSSM muscle biopsies are usually required.

Top Tips!

There are lots of things you can do to try and reduce the risk of ER or PSSM occurring:

  • Where possible feed a high fibre, low sugar and starch diet – the case study below show that even horses in really hard work can be fuelled by fibre and oil diets.
  • Ensure you are feeding a ‘balanced’ diet. 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 Leisure Balancer, Performance+ Balancer, Leisure Vits & Mins or Performance Vits & Mins.
  • Keep stress to a minimum.
  • For ERS sufferers try to keep a diary of each attack which may allow you to notice a pattern and identify the trigger factors for your horse.
  • Use oil and fibre rather than cereals for extra calories eg Dengie Alfa-A Oil, Alfa-A Molasses Free or Healthy Tummy which are equivalent to competition mixes in terms of their energy content.
  • 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.
  • When using fibre based rations ensure the diet is balanced

Case Study – Beth Scott

International Polocrosse player Beth Scott, has always fed a complete Dengie fibre diet to her A grade ponies. In the past Beth has had some issues with one of her mares tying up. For horses that suffer with ER, the feeding recommendations are to provide a ration that is low in sugar and starch and to supply a good quality vitamin and mineral source ensuring that levels of vitamin E and selenium are optimal as these are important antioxdiants that protect muscle cells.

The Dengie nutrition team recommended the following diet:

“I love Dengie fibre feeds, they’re easy to feed and there is plenty of choice for even my fussiest of horses. Alongside their bucket feeds all of my polocrosse ponies receive two handfuls of Dengie Alfalfa Pellets before I play to help buffer stomach acidity during intense and fast games.”

Personalised Feeding Plan

If your horse suffers with ERS, contact us for a personalised feeding plan. With a range of high fibre and oil feeds, Dengie has a feed to meet the requirements of every ERS sufferer.