Garbage in, garbage out, or so I hear from the humans. Here I sit munching on a nice grasshopper. They have a great flavor; I recommend you try them, especially roasted with a bit of salt and pepper! Great nutritional choices like this are what keep this cat in top physical condition. Senior feeding strategies for your horse will keep them running at peak performance, too.
You sang it, didn’t you? I know I did. Then I had images of the movie Shrek play through my head. OK, back on track. You have made wise decisions for your horse’s diet (your own, not so much) and things have been going great. However, as horses get older, their diet needs change, and those changes are very different from the ones humans experience. Doing a very thorough evaluation of body condition score, muscle quality, and diet should be done at least every six months on every horse. (Need help? My minion, Beth, has tons of nutrition experience and can help you formulate a custom plan. In fact, Wellness Plans include this!) If you notice topline shrinking, maybe the ribs are a little easier (or harder) to find, or eating is taking a long time, it may be time to adjust the diet.
Protein, Protein, Protein
You’ve been monitoring your horse’s condition, and have noticed the muscles on the topline are slowly fading away. Maybe there are fat pads cropping up by the top of the tail and behind the shoulder blades. It’s just plain harder to maintain condition. Protein is the answer. Well, part of the answer, anyway.
We have been well trained not to increase protein for older people and animals, but, as usual, horses are weird. It’s important to remember that basic diets for horses are pretty low in protein, usually around 10-12%, versus cat diets which hover around 30-32% protein. This means adding protein to equine diets is a relative thing. The easiest way to add protein is with a ration balancer. Just about every major feed company makes a ration balancer. Enrich Plus, Triple Crown 30, Equalizer, and Empower Balance are all examples of ration balancers. Adding a pound or two of one of these to every feeding is often all the older guys need.
When do I switch to Senior Feed?
Maybe never. While 15 years old is our guideline for Super Senior, it’s just that: a guideline. Dr. Lacher’s 27 year old horse is still on a “regular” feed, SafeChoice Maintenance. Full on Senior concentrates are best suited for horses with very bad teeth. These diets are designed to meet all the nutritional needs of a horse: grain, roughage, vitamins, and minerals. Most of our Seniors have pretty good teeth which means they can get loads of nutrition from hay. As long as your Super Senior is doing well on a regular diet, there’s no need to switch to senior feed.
If not Senior feed, then what?
Okay, you’re having some trouble maintaining topline, but there’s also some fat pads creeping up beside your horse’s tailhead, and you currently feed SafeChoice Maintenance and coastal hay, along with 4-5 pounds of alfalfa hay. Oh, and your horse just turned 17 years old. You ride 3-5 days every week and would put yourself in the moderately in-shape category. Now what?
There’s loads of options out there, but a little tweaking will go a long way here. First, let’s increase the quality and quantity of protein. Dropping back on the amount of SafeChoice Maintenance and adding Empower Balance will increase protein while decreasing calories overall. Trying this simple change for 30 days, while monitoring body condition, may be all the adjusting that’s needed. However, if you aren’t satisfied after 30 days, we can tweak the hay choices, or even switch concentrates all together. My point is: You’ve got options and I’ve got minions to help you with those options.
Want even more information? Want my pawtograph? Come out to the Super Senior Seminar April 19th, 2017 at 6:30pm!
See you there!
Colics. We see a heck of a lot of them. Now a decent amount of those colics can be attributed to the fairly ridiculous design of the equine GI tract. I mean, honestly, who thought that was a good idea? However, I spent my weekend pouring through the computer to look at colics the Docs saw last year. That’s right, I spend my weekend working. What’s a cat to do when it’s far too windy for civilized folk to be outside but sleep in the sun and play on the computer?
I would like a drum roll here to acknowledge my hard work, so please play one in your head now….
Our Docs saw 318 colics last year. Of those colics, three went to surgery. That’s right, three. Four others needed surgery, but for a variety of very good reasons their owners weren’t able to take them to surgery. I did remove one very specific type of colic from those numbers, but I will explain why later. I’m going to start with the moral of story: Most colics don’t need surgery. There you go. You have the punchline. Now, let’s move on to some helpful guidelines to avoid seeing Dr. Lacher and Dr. Vurgason for… umm… ‘unscheduled opportunities’ to spend money on your horse.
Alfalfa (or peanut). I’m not talking about the bad hair day or the comic strip. I’m talking hay. Feeding coastal hay is very, very strongly associated with an emergency visit from one of my Docs after hours. Coastal hay in a round roll virtually guarantees you will see my Docs for an emergency. If you run out of round bale hay, cold weather moves in, and you put out a new round bale, make sure you throw plenty of alfalfa or peanut hay alongside. Feeding a minimum of 4-6 pounds of alfalfa or peanut hay daily will go a long way towards preventing this cause.
Be obsessive-compulsive about water. The old adage “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” exists because it’s so true. If you even have a doubt about how much water your horse is drinking, get water into them. How, you ask? Watch this handy video about how to make colic soup for your horse. Besides colic soup, adding a bit of molasses to the water, or giving them a small amount of salt slurry will entice some to drink up. Each horse is different; work with your horse to figure out what works best.
Manage your horse’s environment. If your horse is in a sandy area, keeping plenty of roughage going through the system is a great way to prevent sand build-up. Psyllium is also an option here for the horse who needs fewer calories, but hay works better than anything else. For the Fall season, be aware of acorns. Acorns are like cute little field mice for cats: bite size morsels of deliciousness. Too many can lead to gas, and we all know gas can be painful. Acorns are tough to avoid, but our Docs have used muzzles and creative electrical fence configurations to help.
Finally, let me go back to that one particular colic: lipomas. Lipomas are a fatty tumor that grows in the area of the small intestine in older horses. It happens in skinny horses and fat horses alike. Lipomas are associated with age. They are not because of nutrition, bad or good, management, or any other factor you can control. These tumors are wicked. They wrap up a section of small intestine much like the bolos used by Gauchos, and strangle it until it dies. If a small amount of intestine is trapped, and the colic is caught early, surgery can be very successful. Unfortunately, many of these horses aren’t found for a few hours and by then surgery is very risky, with laminitis a very real risk about 72 hours post surgery.
Colic sucks. There’s no other way to put it. A little work on the diet and a dash of environmental management, and it will suck less. Want help with a diet plan? Contact my trusty minion Beth. She’s super smart when it comes to everything equine nutrition! And now I’m off to supervise the Clinic.
I’m going to start with an easy one this week: Vaccinate your horse for Eastern Encephalitis (EEE). Florida has hit 12 cases of EEE in horses this year. Eleven of those horses are dead. One had a current vaccination status and is recovering. Did you get that? All eleven that had not been vaccinated had to be euthanized. The one that was is going to be OK. Call, text, e-mail, facebook message, heck send a carrier pigeon, however you want to get in touch with the humans here, but make sure your vaccines are up to date.
Whew now that that’s done, I would like to move on to my favorite topic: food. OK, one of my favorite topics, the other being naps. I had to research this week’s food topic since it is about the equine athlete and we all know I am not an athlete. Luckily, we had some very nice folks from Nutrena and Purina in recently that know all about feed and I got to pick their brains. It’s nice when all my sources agree. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: for the average horse sugar is bad (also true for humans and cats) but athletes need some to fuel muscles. Where is the line? Oh and it’s summertime and it’s hot. I promise that last bit is important, not whining. Cats don’t whine.
Nutrition for horses has come a long way in the past 20 years. Those bags of feed are no longer “grain” but are now a perfectly blended mixture designed for your horse’s metabolism, level of activity, and their weird GI tract. A large part of this change has been a decrease in simple sugars. Instead calories now come from complex sugars, fats, and protein along with a bit of simple sugar. For the average horse this is great. They spend a lot of time eating, lounging, and discussing the meaning of life with their closest cat. Sometimes the humans make them work but it usually isn’t for very long or very hard. Calories aren’t so important in this scenario. I resemble this scenario, though I am always trying to convince my minions to share their food with me since I’m starving.
Horses who work for a living are different. I’m not sure why you would want to work but I understand that horses do this and some even enjoy it. Weird. Anyway, at a certain point the equine muscle requires simple sugars to work well. Fat and protein are great long term energy sources but for those bursts of energy, sugar is the way to go. I’m not saying turn them loose in the sugar cube bin, but it is important to have sugars available in the diet. How much sugar you ask? That is an excellent question. How does your horse feel when riding? Do you find you are hitting a wall? Is there less zing when you need zing? Is the hot weather zapping them of energy? These can be indications it may be time to up the sugar content of the diet. That wall and that lack of zing happen when the muscle has used up all its energy stores. The fats and proteins can be used for energy, but the process takes longer. Processing fats and proteins also creates heat. Told you I wasn’t whining about the heat. Summertime in Florida is not when we want to make more heat.
You have decided your horse could potentially benefit from an increase in sugars in the diet. Now what? First check with the Docs. Horses with certain medical conditions such as metabolic syndrome, laminitis, or a muscle disorder called PSSM have to be very carefully monitored. Often the Docs will work with a nutritionist to come up with the best diet for these guys, and monitor them with bloodwork. If you get the OK from our Docs, then it is simply a matter of picking a diet with a higher NSC than the one you use now. I say simply but in reality it is simple but not easy. I’m going to recommend you talk with our in- house expert, Beth, before you just go with a bag of feed. There are million different ways to increase sugars in the diet and not all of them are good. Seriously, check with Beth. Beth has more years than she will allow me to say of experience in the equine feed industry. Beth will help you come up with the perfect program for your horse!
And now I am off to consume my low sugar diet which has been specially designed for diabetic cats. At least it means I don’t have to get insulin shots anymore!
When Pigs Fly
I thought I had seen just about everything in my 9 lives. While I didn’t actually spot any pigs flying on Saturday, I did see several swimming in Kiddie Pools, walking on leashes, and eating watermelon during our first annual Piggy Ice Cream Social! It was quite the spectacle. I chose to park myself at a safe distance in front of the fans and speakers that the humans set up for me, and I waited for everyone to come give me attention. It worked.
In case you humans needed yet another reason to come and adore me at the clinic, this month we are offering $35 off in-house dentals! I didn’t quite understand why horses require so much dental care, so I asked the docs about it after Saturday’s social, and this is what I learned:
Unlike the superior feline species, horse teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. The fancy doctor word for this is hypsodont dentition. As the teeth erupt from the gum line, they are gradually ground down by forage in the horse’s diet. Humans have done a few things to fowl up this natural process of wear and tear, including feeding horses large grain meals to replace grazing on the prairie, and breeding horses to have extra long or short heads, which often means their teeth no longer line up.
In an ideal situation, the top rows of cheek teeth line up with the bottom rows of cheek teeth, and when the horse grinds it’s food in a circular motion, all of the teeth wear down evenly. (We are talking about molars and premolars now, not the incisors, which you see when you lift up the lips.) In reality, it is common for the top rows of teeth to stick out farther in the front, and the bottom rows of teeth to stick out farther in the back. This causes sharp hooks and ramps, respectively, to form.
In addition, the horse’s upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw. Over time this causes sharp enamel points to form on the cheek side of the upper teeth, and the tongue side of the lower teeth. Sharp points lead to ulcerations, which lead to pain, which lead to difficulty eating, which leads to weight loss…
Moral of the story: bring your horse in for a dental float, and the docs will be able to identify and quickly correct any and all of these issues. A healthy horse with an average mouth should have his teeth filed down, or “floated” at least once a year. If your horse has dental problems, such as missing or broken teeth, a wave mouth, a step mouth, or a long history of inadequate dental care, he may need more frequent dental exams.
The only way to thoroughly and safely examine all of a horse’s teeth is with sed
ation, a good light source, and a speculum (that’s the contraption that holds the horse’s mouth open and prevents the doc’s arm from being crushed). Honestly I still wouldn’t be caught dead sticking my paw inside the mouth of a 1000 lb animal with 42 teeth, but then again I’m not a vet!
Now, thanks to my cat wisdom, you are an expert on horse teeth. Feel free to go out and impress your friends with your new knowledge. I won’t even ask for credit, just give me a scratch behind the ears when you bring your horse in for his discounted dental this month!
First a little business: Our latest #SpringhillEquine winner is June Begelman! Also, I had better see everyone next Thursday March 10th at 6:30pm for the Skin Funk Seminar. And now on to our main topic.
This past week has been sufficiently busy for my amusement. Dr. Lacher did a few dentals, ultrasounds for breeding, and a lameness exam. Dr. Vurgason took X-rays of a mini with a fractured face, and castrated another one of those cute (but loud) piglets. As I observe the horses that trail through the clinic, I have noticed a trend toward the slim, tucked-up, ribby look this season. Perhaps you too have noticed that your horse shed a few too many pounds this winter?
There are a few possible reasons for this phenomenon, but let’s rule out the easy ones first:
Has your horse had his teeth floated recently (at least within the last 12 months)? If not, he may not be properly chewing his feed for optimal nutrient absorption. Chewing is an important part of digestion, especially for animals who have to break down coarse feedstuffs like hay and oats. I much prefer bite-size pieces of tuna-flavored kibbles.
Has your horse been recently dewormed? In humans it is true that tapeworms living in the gut can eat the food intended for their host, and grow super long (disgusting!) In contrast, the internal parasites of horses cause weight loss by damaging the large intestine, which is where a lot of nutrient absorption normally occurs. Some parasites migrate through the blood vessels of the large colon, others encyst in the lining of the intestines. Either way, being “wormy” is definitely a reason why your horse could be losing weight. Maybe I should swallow a tapeworm to lose the rest of this holiday weight I’ve been holding onto…
Far and away the most common reason I see for skinny horses is something I like to call “a-groceri-osis,” or a lack of feed. So many horse owners are shocked when they hear how much grain our docs recommend for an underweight horse. I’m not talking about increasing your horse from 1 cup to two cups of Omelene 100. I’m talking 12 lbs (that’s two full coffee cans twice a day) of Triple Crown Senior. In my glory days, I could fit my whole body into a standard equine feed scoop.
For many of us, weight loss is difficult. But apparently for some creatures, weight gain proves more of a challenge. Keep in mind that you should always start with forage. Grass and hay should be the mainstay of any horse’s diet. As a carnivore, it’s hard for me to get on board with the green and leafy stuff, but they seem to like it. Next, it may be in your best financial interest to evaluate the type of grain you are feeding. Higher calorie does not necessarily mean higher cost. If you have a skinny horse, you will get more bang for your buck by switching to a Senior feed than feeding more of a Maintenance feed. My cat food is very expensive, but I’m worth it.
That being said, if your horse has had a dental, you have recently dewormed him, you believe you are feeding him enough to sustain an elephant, and he is still skinny, please have Dr. Lacher or Dr. Vurgason out to take a look! There are several other underlying medical issues that can cause weight loss in a horse; this is just what I’ve learned over the years from eavesdropping on the docs. Until next week, my friends!