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.

What Causes Grass Sickness in Horses?

The exact cause of equine 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. Grass sickness in horses is most prevalent in between 2 – 7 years old and cases are reported all over the UK. The peak time for grass sickness occurs predominantly during spring and summer.

Equine Grass Sickness Clinical Signs:

There are three forms of equine 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 clinical signs of acute grass sickness 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 – Chronic grass sickness in horses can appear as severe and rapid weight loss and a select portion of these cases may survive

The clinical signs of equine grass sickness can be obvious, but diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan for grass sickness requires an examination by a veterinarian.

How To Manage Feed for Grass Sickness In Horses

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 has inevitably been lost as a result of equine grass sickness.

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 consistency. A 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, as they are particularly effective at promoting beneficial bacteria and reducing the presence of harmful bacteria such as clostridium species.

Dengie Products To Try 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 nutritionally balanced , 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, ADM Protein In-Feed Formula and a unique blend of herbs including oregano, cinnamon and ginger.

Alfalfa Pellets contains 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.

Pure Grass contains high temperature dried grasses in a short chop format that is easy to chew. Pure Grass is naturally sweet which can help to tempt fussy feeders and can be fed ad-lib to replace the usual forage ration.

Pure Grass Pellets are pure high temperature dried grass pellets with nothing else added. Grass is naturally sweet which helps to tempt fussy feeders. These should be soaked to a mash when fed alone.

Meadow Grass with Herbs combines chopped and pellets grasses with a rapeseed oil coating and herbal blend. Meadow Grass with Herbs is a high calorie feed that is soft and easy to chew and highly palatable due to the naturally sweet grass and additional herbs, perfect for the fussy eater.

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 01621 841188.