Horse supplement sign
Serious health issues are possible if your horse’s chronic, special needs are not addressed, often through supplementation.
- flist each supplement you have on the shelf
- note its purpose
- mark it “chronic” or “acute”
- ask yourself, “Is it working?”
For chronic use supplements that are working, do not consider discontinuing use.
If you’re dealing with an acute problem that needs attention only during certain times of the year, mark your calendar to begin the necessary supplement at the appropriate time.
Important questions need to be considered:
• What are the possible effects of a supplement being suddenly or gradually withdrawn?
• Are there certain supplements that, once begun, should NOT be discontinued?
• Might certain conditions be exacerbated without supplements?
Wise, efficient and cost-effective nutritional supplementation for horses requires a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to maintain overall health, performance levels, proper growth, and reproductive health. The amount of nutrients required can vary from horse to horse and breed to breed, with stress and activity levels also a factor.
A horse’s optimal nutritional requirements are seldom, if ever, completely met by diets relying solely on pasture, hay, and grain. Complete feeds attempt to supply adequate levels of nutrients for horses, but often include only the minimum amount to maintain the basic NRC (National Research Council) recommendations.
As equine nutritional science progresses, it is clear that all horses can benefit by sensible use of high quality vitamin, mineral, and digestive supplements to support the horse’s health. Supplementation can offer preventive maintenance to minimize potential problems associated with nutritional imbalances, such as excessive inflammation or endocrine issues.
A NUTRITIONAL FOUNDATION
Certain supplements have been found to maintain a horse’s nutritional foundation, while horses with special needs such as pregnancy, Cushing’s syndrome, insulin resistance or founder might require shorter-term, specific nutrients to regain optimal balance.
The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies strongly to the foundation nutrient supplements. These are considered part of a solid nutritional foundation and should be used daily, without interruption.
Because of the delicate nature of the equine digestive tract, digestive supplements are considered part of a foundation program. Some multi-vitamin mineral formulas also contain digestive support factors but may not be adequate by themselves to prevent digestive distress or to optimize digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
Good quality unrefined oils are also gaining support for use as a daily foundation supplement. These oils digest more slowly, and as such, can aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing stress associated with unstable blood sugar. These oils have anti-inflammatory benefits and supply the essential fatty acids required for optimal health. This is of particular importance for insulin resistant and sugar sensitive horses.
The sudden cessation or withdrawal of the foundation supplements may have no immediate negative effect, as some nutrients can store in the body for a period of time and it may take a while for problems to manifest. Once foundation supplements have been withdrawn, risks for any number of problems begin to elevate. The exact problem will depend on the horse’s age, environment, breed, stresses and genetics.
If a nutritional imbalance develops, it will always show itself in the areas of the body that are genetically the weakest in relationship to the imbalance(s).
Once signs or symptoms of an imbalance develop, it is often more difficult to return the metabolism to normal and usually takes higher doses of nutrients to overcome a problem than it would take to prevent those issues to begin with.
Some supplements, such as hoof and joint formulas, are used seasonally for preventive purposes to protect the tissues from the stressful effects of higher physical activity. Cyclical use of these supplements is acceptable if there are no problems or issues with the hooves or joints. However, for preventive maintenance, it is most effective to supplement year round to further strengthen and support the tissues so they will not react negatively to seasonal stress.
CHRONIC vs. ACUTE CONDITIONS
Horses with special needs for nutritional supplementation can incur long-term use for chronic health issues or short-term use for horses with acute problems. In horses with acute special needs, appropriate supplementation can be utilized short-term until a full recovery or rebalancing occurs. In cases such as injury, accidents, surgery, illness, infection, travel, performance, thermal stress, short-term use of immune function support, digestive aids, and antioxidants can help with healing rate, performance efficiency and stress recovery as needed.
Short-term nutritional supplementations might include use of higher strength and quantity of probiotics after a course of antibiotics for infection to re-establish proper gut flora, or using immune support supplements to improve the speed of recovery from a viral infection. The short-term, high-potency use of specific supplementation to aid in overcoming an acute issue is wise and acceptable, and assuming there are no lasting negative effects from the acute issue, the supplementation can be safely discontinued. If problems do show themselves occasionally, then those same specific nutrients can be repeated until the problems are resolved.
A forgotten form of stress for many horses that affects nutritional and endocrine balance is thermal stress. Examples are the transitioning from the heat of summer to the cold of winter, and vice-versa, which can increase nutrient needs, especially for the functioning of the thyroid and adrenal glands. Extra electrolyte use is wise in warmer climates and seasons, and basic nutrient requirements can go up as the horse’s body adjusts to the changing temperatures.
For horses who have long-term, chronic special needs, effective supplementation should be used on a regular basis, much like a foundation formula. If chronic, special-needs horses are not supplemented to address those needs, then serious health issues can manifest and be very difficult to manage.
Reducing potential problems is important when deciding which supplements go beyond your budget constraints.
The science and implementation of equine nutritional supplementation has expanded enormously in the last decade. Never before have more horses been better cared for with their nutritional and metabolic well-being in mind. However, the economy has forced even the most devoted horse owners to consider cutting back on their horse’s supplements.
Chronic, special-need issues include, but are not limited to:
• colic history
• digestive issues (i.e., persistent diarrhea)
• founder and laminitis
• hoof and joint problems
• insulin resistance
• Cushings syndrome
• HYPP (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis)
• EPSM (equine polysaccharide storage myopathy)
• chronic inflammation
Single episodes of select issues such as colic, hives, diarrhea, allergies and inflammation do not necessarily mean that a chronic condition exists. If appropriate supplementation with veterinary care cannot resolve these issues quickly or the problems recur, a more chronic issue may be present.
When special chronic needs are clearly identified and the appropriate supplementation is implemented, the usage of the supplement should be adjusted depending on the results in managing the chronic issue. Sometimes dose adjusting can be difficult especially in the early stages as higher doses are often needed to support the areas of distress more effectively.
Once the distress is well managed or resolved, the dose can often be adjusted down to maintenance levels as long as the health issue does not remanifest. If it does, then the dose should be adjusted upward until favorable results occur, then adjusted down again more slowly. Occasionally you may not be able to adjust the dose down without generating a recurrence of the health issues. Some horses, because of their biochemical individuality, may require higher doses to maintain good health. This will become evident with time, dose adjustment and the individual horse’s response.
Jack Grogan is a Certified Nutritionist who has studied extensively in the fields of biology, biochemistry and nutrition. VP of Research and Development for Uckele Health & Nutrition, he has been a consultant in human and animal nutrition for 30 years, developing nutritional formulations and programs. Jack is an expert in tissue mineral balancing, and has experienced great success in balancing equine mineral chemistry to strengthen the basic metabolism and improve efficiency in horses. Jack is a consultant to numerous physicians, veterinarians, chiropractors, trainers, naturopaths, and nutritionists to rebalance the mineral status of their clients. Jack is a graduate of the University of Toledo with a degree in Public Health.
©2008 Jack Grogan, Uckele Health & Nutrition