Sunday, December 15, 2013

Immune System Support: the Basics

There are a lot of products out there which claim to support the immune system - some are beneficial and some are just unsubstantiated hype - and most are expensive. So what should you do if you feel your horse needs some help to stave off winter stress or to make it less likely he'll catch what the horse down the road has?

Immune system support starts with some basics which should be included in every horse's diet.  Before considering any expensive "specialty" products, make sure your horse's diet includes:
  • Clean water at a drinkable temperature.  If you use automatic waterers, buckets or tanks should also be available.  Every winter I hear from someone who's horse went without water for a day or longer because the auto waters froze up.
  • Salt is often overlooked but is important to encourage adequate hydration.  A 1000 lb horse should receive an ounce of salt (about 4 teaspoons/day) year round.
    • Inadequate sodium (from salt) can lead to dehydration at a "cellular" level which can impede or obstruct normal cellular metabolism.
    • Plain white table salt is best.  "Designer" salts make attractive door stops but may contain high levels of undesirable minerals.
    • If your supplement contains less that the minimum requirement for iodine (most only contain 2 mg) use iodized salt which contains about 1.7 mg iodine per ounce.
  • Adequate quality forage, preferably mainly grass hay, with additional provided as needed for colder temperatures.  (See the Cold Weather Feeding Chart.)
  • If you feed mainly Bermuda hay and your horse doesn't seem to be looking/feeling his best, consider replacing some of the hay (up to half) with Timothy pellets.  The added cost can pay off in improved condition and good health. 

  • Avoid feeds with high levels of simple sugars and starch (which converts to glucose) as excessive glucose can support inflammation.  The processing of "senior" feeds does help greatly with improving digestibility but some contain excessive starch. Look for high fiber feeds as these will be more apt to promote good gut health.  Or give your senior horse a 50/50 combination of beet pulp and steamed or crimped oats plus hay and/or Timothy pellets, along with a quality supplement,  for a nutritious senior diet. 
  • Avoid feeds and supplements with "added" iron.  Excess iron can help fuel inflammation and many forages already supply excessive levels of iron.
  • Look for a supplement which provides at least the minimum daily requirement for copper, zinc, iodine and selenium. For a 1000 lb horse these are:
    • Copper 90-125 mg
    • Zinc 360 mg
    • Iodine 3.2 mg
    • Selenium 1 mg
  • Vitamin E and Omega-3 are important antioxidants which decline rapidly when hay is cut and cured.  
    • For best immune support, provide vitamin E at a rate of 1000 IU per 500 lbs of body weight (2,000 IU for a 1,000 lb horse). It doesn't matter if the vitamin E is synthetic or natural but it does need fat for absorption.  Using human gel caps which also contain oil is best, otherwise add a small amount of oil at feeding time.  For an inexpensive oil which also adds a small benefit from medium chained triglycerides, try Costco's Mediterranean Blend (canola, olive and grape seed oils).
    • The simplest and most cost effective source for Omega-3 is flax. Provide about 2 ounces/day of fresh ground flax seed (which can be pre-ground and stored in the refrigerator) or stabilized flax - HorseTech NutraFlax, Omega HorseShine or Triple Crown OmegaMAX.
  • Iodine and selenium are both important for adequate thyroid functioning.
    • If your supplement has inadequate iodine, use iodized salt or the original Source meal which has a guaranteed level of iodine. If using another kelp or seaweed product, check that the iodine level is guaranteed.
    • Most supplements include selenium at about 2 mg per serving (2 mg per day). If blood tests show low selenium levels, you may need to use a selenium yeast product such as Platinum Selenium Yeast at a higher than usual dosage to bring the level up.  I feel  using an oral selenium yeast algorithm is safer than selenium injectables. 
The above list is what should be included in any horse's diet to ensure a healthy immune system. But older horses or those who are stressed or already ill can benefit from some additional nutrients:
  • Vitamin A - around 15,000 IU/day.  Vitamin A losses in hay occur over time; if hay is over six months since cutting it should be supplemented.  Many supplements provide this or you can use human gel caps.
  • Vitamin D - horses are able to synthesize their own vitamin D and it is also stored in the liver, usually in quantities sufficient to carry most horses through the winter.  If supplementing, stay close to the minimum requirement (3,000 IU for a 1000 lb horse) as excessive D can be toxic. Again, if not provided in your supplement you can add human gel caps.
  • Glutamine - this is an amino acid which is being added more frequently to equine probiotics.  It has been shown to be protective for the mucous membrane lining of the intestines which may help support the intestinal flora production of some immune modulators. 
    • There has been more research lately showing the importance of the intestinal lining and intestinal flora in maintaining immunity.
    • Cost to provide glutamine is about $0.44 for 10 grams per day. See the links below.
  • B-vitamins - not likely deficient except in stressed horses or those with gut issues.  May be included in supplements or can try a human "multi-B" tablet.  
    • Adding yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae - Diamond V or Yea Sac) can help provide a substrate for intestinal flora, which synthesize the B vitamins, to thrive.
I'd certainly consider these basic and cost effective additions to my horse's diet before moving on to more exotic - and pricey - immune support therapies.

Warm regards,

in windy Vail AZ



                   and PureBulk

Selenium Yeast

Vitamin E and Omega-3 Information and links to sources

Purchase Diamond-V Saccharomyces cerevisiae locally at feed mills for best prices

Reasonably priced "general" supplements 
HorseTech High Point (the "alfalfa" should be used with Bermuda) (use with cool season grasses, Timothy pellets)

Source Focus Hoof

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside

The thermometer showed 42°F this morning - chilly for those of us used to the sunny warmth of Southern Arizona but just right for our horses.

Horses thrive in “thermo neutral” temperatures ranging from 40 or 45°F to 65°F.  Above 65, they begin to rely on sweating, with water and salt loss, for cooling.  Under 45 they use energy to maintain their body temperature.  

According to Dr. Robert A. Mowrey, Extension Horse Specialist at North Carolina State University, the standard “critical temperature” is 45°F, with 10 degrees subtracted for wind and another 10 degrees subtracted for rain/wet coats becoming the “actual” temperature. 

On a 45 degree day, if the horse is wet and unprotected from wind the “actual” temperature is 25 degrees - which is cold.  For each degree below the critical temperature the horse requires a 1% increase in calories to maintain a constant temperature.

At 25°F a horse needs 20% more calories than when the temperature is a neutral 45 degrees. That’s 20% more calories, not 20% more forage - how that translates to hay or beet pulp depends on the DE (digestible energy in Mcal per pound) of the forage.  For grass hay with a DE of 0.8 Mcal/lb that would mean an additional 1.2 pounds of hay, with alfalfa hay or beet pulp at about 1.2 Mcal/lb, he would need less than a pound of additional forage.

The calorie increase should come from forage - preferably long stem grass or alfalfa hay, but cubes, pellets or beet pulp also work. This is because the greatest amount of immediate heat maintaining energy is produced by the fermentation of forage in the hind gut.  While additional calories from grain will help retain body weight, grain doesn’t provide the heat-producing fermentation that forage does.

The Cold Weather Feeding Chart and Calculator on my web site can help you determine how much additional forage is needed for your winter temperatures.  The Chart in the pdf file is set for a 1000 lb horse; you can use a percentage of the recommendation if your horse weighs more or less.  Or, if you’re comfortable with spreadsheets, you can download the Excel version (opens with Excel, Numbers or Open Office Calc) and plug in your horse’s weight and the DE of your hay.

These are starting points - your easy keeper may need less and your hard keeper may need the more concentrated calories from alfalfa or beet pulp. And if your horse is a senior or is IR/PPID and prone to laminitis in the winter, don’t forget the boots and leg warmers.  Do use a cooler until your horse is dry after work but think twice about blanketing a horse with a full winter coat - no matter how cold it feels to us your horse can easily become overheated and start sweating under a winter blanket.

Warm regards,
Patti in sunny but chilly Vail, AZ


Cold Weather Feeding Chart (pdf and Excel)

Cold Weather Feeding Practices for Horses 

Nutritional content averages for feeds - Dairy One Feed Composition Library

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Caring for Horses Through Life and Death

The Horse Report, published by UCDavis Center for Equine Health, has always been one of my “go to” references.

UC Davis CEH Horse Report October 2013
The latest issue of the Horse Report, "Caring for Horses Through Life and Death" is now available on the Center for Equine Health’s web site both as a downloadable pdf or in Zmag format.

This is an especially insightful look at preparing for our horse’s end of life and includes some deeply moving perspectives from the Center’s veterinarians. To be read now for information on some of the practical aspects of euthanasia, this issue is also a keeper - to be downloaded and saved, and perhaps printed and filed with our horse's other important papers, so it is available when we might need it.

Those of us privileged to have these creatures share their lives with us also know that they will leave - often way too soon.

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose.
All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
—Helen Keller

Warm regards,
Patti in Vail AZ

UC Davis Center for Equine Health Publications:

How Do You Know When It Is Time To Say Goodbye?
Susan Garlinghouse, DVM

Thursday, November 07, 2013

A Little Holiday Fun if You'll Be in Arizona

The annual Cascabel Holiday Fair 
Forever Home Donkey Rescue Open House

How is this equine nutrition related?  The donkeys at Forever Home are all on on mineral balanced donkey appropriate diets. Many of these rescues are unadoptable because of hoof problems, chronic medical issues, or other problems related to abuse as roping donkeys.  But they all have an opportunity to regain their health and live out their lives in peace in a protected sanctuary.

If you're in the neighborhood, stop in to meet these delightful creatures and have some community fun in Cascabel.  This makes a wonderful day trip from Tucson or Phoenix!

Warm regards,

Patti in Vail AZ