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Feeding Protocols for Displaced Horses

by Dr Clair Thunes PhD Nutrition
Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine & PET
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During times of natural disaster many animals including horses become displaced. While we normally take great care to gradually introduce new feeds to our horse’s diets no such luxuries exist when sudden evacuations have been made. Having a safe location to house our precious family members is the number one priority. Perhaps this is with a friend or another family member. Sometimes a stranger takes in a horse and they may not even know who it belongs to. Given the fact that sudden dietary changes as well as stress (and certainly these situations have to be as stressful as things can get), can have negative impacts on the horse’s gastrointestinal health. Here are some things to consider that may help mitigate these risks if your horse is displaced or you take in a displaced horse.

Feed plenty of forage ideally a grass hay. Since forage should be the foundation of every horse’s diet and is necessary for optimum gut health you really can’t go too wrong with feeding plenty of hay. Grass hay is likely the safest choice as most horses do very well on it. Assess the horse’s body condition using the Hennecke body condition scoring scale. If the horse has a condition score off 5 or slightly below, feed as much hay as the horse is willing to eat. With a heavier level of condition restrict intake but try to feed between 1.5 and 2 percent of estimated body weight per day as hay as this will help insure optimal gut function.

If the horse is extremely thin be cautious during the refeeding process and consider feeding alfalfa if available. Researchers at the University of California Davis have shown that feeding alfalfa to emaciated horses is a better choice than grass hay. Their refeeding protocol is readily available online and is strongly recommended.

Due to the potential for gastrointestinal distress caused by sudden diet changes and stress some kind of digestive tract conditioner may be a good choice. Products that help buffer stomach acid, help support digestion of forage and stabilize the gastrointestinal tract may be of particular benefit.

Providing good clean hay, plenty of clean water and access to salt is the bare minimum necessary and in many emergency situations is all that can be provided, at least in the short term. If you have a horse that needs to gain weight, feeding part of the ration as soaked beet pulp is a great choice as beet pulp is relatively cheap and provides more calories pound for pound than hay but is still considered a roughage.

Due to the potential for gastrointestinal distress caused by sudden diet changes and stress some kind of digestive tract conditioner may be a good choice. Products that help buffer stomach acid, help support digestion of forage and stabilize the gastrointestinal tract may be of particular benefit. Such buffers include sodium bentonite clay which also coats the stomach lining and encourages the horse to drink which are all things that help support a healthy stomach. Pre/probiotic yeasts help stabilize the gastrointestinal tract environment and have been shown to improve utilization of the organic matter in hay.

It may be hard to get quality hay and feed in a time of crisis and if the issue is something like flooding as in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey there may be increased incidence of mold in feed. These molds that are often mycotoxins have a range of negative impacts on horses most of which are overlooked as being the result of eating feeds contaminated with mycotoxins and aflatoxins. Providing a mycotoxin binder helps to reduce these risks as such binders attach to the toxins and prevent them from adhering to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract instead escorting them out in feces.

Both GastroBalance Plus and EveryDayBalance Equine provide full servings of both live yeast and a research proven mycotoxin binder. GastroBalance Plus is in a foundation of sodium bentonite clay and EveryDayBalance Equine is in a flax base. Both products provide very good levels of key essential amino acids copper and zinc that are vital for immune function and skin health, two things that can be a challenge during the stress of natural disasters. EveryDayBalance Equine helps to support a normal inflammatory response thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Both products contain generous daily servings of zinc and copper as well as a broad array of vitamins and other minerals. EveryDayBalance Equine provides a broader spectrum of minerals at slightly higher levels due to being formulated for horses receiving very little grain. GastroBalance Plus comes in both powder and easy to store and transport paste form. Both products are great choices for supporting displaced horses during times of crisis.

I also recommend that you check out the line of EnviroEquine topical products that are particularly helpful for horses that may have skin conditions that often develop as a result of exposure to flooding and extreme weather conditions.

Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine Dr. Clair Thunes is passionate about her profession—one that she decided upon at the age of 14. After earning a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Edinburgh University, and a Master of Science in Animal Science and a PhD in Nutrition from the University of California, Davis, Dr. Thunes went on to found Summit Equine Nutrition LLC an independent consulting company in 2007. An experienced nutritionist and accomplished scientist, Dr. Thunes understands the vital role that nutrition plays in managing horses today. Most importantly, she believes in making nutrition accessible to everyone and removes the guesswork so that owners have the peace of mind that their horse’s diets are optimal for maximum health and peak performance.  Her clients include all horses from competitors at the 2016 Rio Olympics to retired pasture friends, mules and miniature donkeys. She writes a weekly online commentary for and her nutrition articles have been published in noted publications including: The Horse, Equine Wellness, Trail Blazer, Horse & Rider and The Horse Report. Besides consulting she teaches equine nutrition and equine exercise physiology in the Animal Science Department at UC Davis and equine health at Cosumnes River College.  Clair continues to be involved with The United States Pony Clubs, Inc. and she is currently the Regional Supervisor for the Sierra Pacific Region.

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