Kansas state studying equine feeding issues
Omega-3 fatty acids and equine physiology
Fat supplementation of horse diets is very common within the industry. Almost all commercially-prepared concentrates now contain added fat. traditionally, this fat has been provided from a vegetable source that is generally high in essential omega-6 fatty acids and low in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Most horse diets in general are very low in these important omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high concentrations in marine-based products like fish oil. Recent research with humans and other species has begun to define the role of omega-3 fatty acids in health, immunity and neurological development. Consumers are now starting to see a number of products on the market for both humans and animals that are labelled as being “high” in omega-3 fatty acids. The potential role of omega-3 fatty acids in horse health and nutrition is still a relatively new area of research. At Kansas State in the Department of Animal Sciences, we are currently focusing our attention on the effect of dietary supplementation with marine-based omega-3 fatty acids on equine reproduction and foal growth. The goal of this research is to more accurately determine the effects of feeding diets high in omega-3 fatty acids to mares and foals, as well as the young, growing horse, and to make subsequent recommendations to horse owners in terms of incorporating these essential fatty acids into the diets of their horses.
Fescue and Its Effects on the Equine Hoof
Tall fescue grass is routinely fed to horses. While most horse owners know about the toxicity effects of fescue in pregnant mares, they often do not hesitate to put their riding horses on fescue pasture. In cattle, fescue consumption has been related to a condition known as “fescue foot.” We have a project underway that is designed to look at the effect fescue consumption may have on circulation through the equine hoof. Fescue consumption has been linked to vasoconstriction, and with the issues reported in cattle, it seems likely that fescue consumption might also alter blood flow to the horse’s hoof. If this is the case, there could be implications for those horses predisposed to navicular syndrome, laminitis, or other lameness conditions related to the health of the hoof itself.
The glycemic effect of various feeds in the equine
Like humans, many horses in the U.S. are suffering from obesity and all of its related health issues. There are several conditions in which the horse is best maintained on a diet that does not elicit a large insulin response. Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy are two examples. As a result, there is a need to characterize the glycemic and insulinemic response of the equine to various dietary components. We have begun to do this by looking specifically at various feedstuffs containing molasses but that are consumed in very different ways. We are comparing feeds like sweet feed that are consumed entirely in meals to feeds like hardened blocks containing molasses that are consumed in small quantities throughout the day.
A probiotic approach to preventing laminitis
Laminitis, or founder, is a devastating condition in the horse. The best veterinary care in the world often cannot save horses from this condition: Barbaro and Secretariat both succumbed to laminitis. Laminitis is unique in that most obvious symptoms are detected in the hoof, but the problem originates in the horse’s digestive system. Generally the process begins when there is a starch overload in the horse’s hindgut and the microbial population present produces large quantities of lactic acid in response to the starch. The resulting acidosis appears to set off a chain reaction that ends with severe disruption to the hoof. We are working to develop a probiotic approach that would prevent lactic acid build-up in the horse’s cecum. In doing this, we hope to develop a preventative measure that would be effective in stopping the laminitis cascade before it even begins.