Thursday, November 19, 2015

Equine Nutrition Interview, Part 2

This is the second part of our equine nutrition interview with Meredith Kahn, courtesy of O3 Animal Health, makers of Equine Omega Complete. Part one can be read here.

SRR: Do horse owners tend to over-feed or under-feed supplements?

MK: While forage alone does not meet the energy demands of a working horse, supplementing on top of added grain depends on the horse in question. What is their work level? What is their medical history? Although additional supplementation can be necessary, horse owners, in general, tend to over-supplement. In fact, over-supplementing is becoming a more frequent and costly problem. Concentrate feeds and fats supply additional energy for equine athletes on top of high quality forage. Commercial feeds designed for working horses typically supply a balance of the appropriate vitamins and minerals and often include pro and prebiotics for added digestive support. Additional supplementation varies from horse to horse. In order to avoid to doing more harm than good, veterinarians and equine nutritionists should be consulted before any extra supplements are added to your horse’s dietary regimen.

SRR: What should owners look for in a supplementation program?

MK: With the help of a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist, owners should design a supplementation program that fits their horse’s specific needs. While horses in general do not require much additional supplementation, this is an area that can be shaped specifically around an individual horse’s requirements. For example, putting weight on a highly stressed or geriatric horse. After investigating for a possible pathogenic condition, you can increase the caloric density of the diet by offering a high quality forage and concentrates with added fat. This option does not make sense for all horses. For example, increasing the dietary fat content of an overweight horse or a horse in ideal condition would cause more harm than good. In the case of the “hard keeper,” an explicit dietary regimen that includes added fat is designed specifically for that horse to help promote weight gain.

SRR: Is there such thing as feeding too much fat to a horse?

MK: Horses cannot really overdose on fat. In fact, the upper limit of fat inclusion in the equine diet has not been established for all sources of fat. Nevertheless, there is a point where fat will no longer absorb efficiently or horses will no longer accept it based on palatability and texture preferences. The truth is, there is no set limit for horses in general, as every horse is different. Some horses tolerate rice bran or flaxseed over fat in an oil form. Others will develop loose, greasy feces with low levels of fat added to the diet, while some can tolerate high quantities of fat without any apparent digestive complication. Despite there being no set limit for fat inclusion in the equine diet, a general consensus of rations below 230 g fat/kg dry matter is considered acceptable.

SRR: How do good fats differ from bad fats in their effect on the horse?

MK: The effect of different fat types begins at the cellular level. While both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are required in the diet, horses are naturally adapted to a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids compared to omega-6 fatty acids. Every cell in the body is surrounded by fat. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for incorporation into the cell membrane. In fact, the composition of the cell membrane is a direct reflection of the fatty acid content of the diet. With more omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, and, thus, the cell membrane, the membrane increases in flexibility, fluidity and permeability. Increased flexibility and fluidity of red blood cell membranes promotes more efficient blood flow and oxygen delivery, while cells with a more permeable cell membrane are better able to regulate the exchange of nutrients and waste products.

Once inside the body, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids have hormone-like properties. Essential fatty acids are cleaved from the cell membrane and act as precursors to biological mediators known as eicosanoids. Omega-6’s are precursors to eicosanoids that promote blood clotting, inflammation and immune system responses, however if these processes get carried away, they can actually become more harmful than helpful. The diet must therefore contain the correct proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in order to keep these processes under control.

SRR: Is there any other nutritional information that you wish more horse people were aware of?

MK: When in doubt, ask a professional. Every horse is different. The diet should be designed around each horse’s specific needs. It is important to start with a good base: high quality forage and water. Then depending on your horse’s work load/condition you can begin to increase the caloric density of the diet by adding in a concentrate feed. Again, this should be tailored to your horse’s specific requirements. Always consult an equine nutritionist or your veterinarian before adding in a new supplement or changing your horse’s feeding program. The horse has a unique system, specifically designed for processing forages in the hindgut. While their systems can tolerate a variety of other feedstuffs, it is important to carefully evaluate your horse’s diet in order to avoid any unnecessary nutritional complications.

Thank you very much to Meredith Kahn and O3 Animal Health for making this interview possible!

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