What are Nutritional Deficiencies?
Quite similar to a condition of malnutrition found in humans, appropriate dietary requirements exist for horses to maintain good health, performance and productivity. And, just as with the human diet, all necessary nutrients are not always present for your horse’s body to utilize and this lack of nutrition can cause disease which can cause further deficiencies. Sometimes, a disease process can be caused by nutritional deficiencies and sometimes disease processes can cause those nutritional deficiencies. The result of either possibility can result in some serious issues for your horse.
Nutritional deficiency in horses is defined as a malnutrition condition in which the equine is not getting the necessary dietary nutrients that it needs to maintain adequate levels of health and performance from the dietary regimens that are available.
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Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiencies in Horses
While the cause of the nutritional deficiency can be quite complex, the symptoms are not as complex but can be suggestive of other conditions or diseases. These are some of the symptoms you might note in your equine to some degree:
- Decreases in weight that are longstanding
- Longstanding diarrhea
- Mangy or ratty looking coat
- Increased tendency toward infections and diseases
- Signs of unusual soreness in muscles
- Inability or lack of willingness to exercise or work
- Various types of orthopedic issues
- Parasite infestation susceptibility
- Colic problems
- Dental issues
The various types of nutritional deficiencies in horses comes down to the specific nutrient which is lacking in the diet of the equine. Those types basically fall into several specific categories:
- Caloric deficiency which can result from inadequate intake, malabsorption or maldigestion of the equine’s feed
- Protein deficiency resulting from not enough protein or the proper quality of the protein being fed or from a missing specific essential amino acid
- Vitamin deficiency resulting from not enough vitamins - vitamin A, E, D, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B12 are some specific vitamins which may not be given in appropriate quantities
- Mineral deficiencies result from inadequate amounts of calcium, phosphorus, salt, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and selenium
Causes of Nutritional Deficiencies in Horses
Sometimes, nutritional deficiencies can be the result of disease processes which are yet undiagnosed or they can be the cause for diseases to develop. Some nutritional deficiencies are the result of concurrent nutritional deficiencies which exist together. Here are some of the things which might cause nutritional deficiencies in your equine:
- Sometimes the increased susceptibility of the equine to parasitic infestations or bacterial infections can mask other signs of clinical illnesses or conditions
- Excessive feeding of some nutrients like energy (overfeeding), phosphorus, iron, copper, selenium and vitamin A can lead to toxicity or result in still other nutrients to become deficient
- Insufficient quantity or quality of protein or specific essential amino acids in the diet
- Changes in the horse’s feed or the schedule in which he is fed
- Feeding horses with hay or pasture grazing without incorporation of grain
- Deficiencies in salt and potassium usually accompany hot weather working and exercising
- Toxins or poisons which may be present in the hay, forage or feed given to the horse
- Parasitic infestations in the hay, forage, grain or other feed given to the equine
Diagnosis of Nutritional Deficiencies in Horses
Though the exact cause of the nutritional deficiency in your horse may not be immediately known, providing your veterinarian with a thorough and complete history of the equine’s activities and habits may be sufficient to aid in the diagnosis and enable the vet to develop a treatment plan. But, the source of the deficiency may be more complex and may require a deeper and more thorough examination by your vet. In addition to the aforementioned thorough and complete history provided by you, the owner, your veterinarian will likely need blood and tissue samples to be analyzed to get to the root cause of the nutritional deficiency. Expect these areas to be addressed in the veterinary caregiver’s assessment process:
- The length of time of current feeding or management plan
- Is the horse fed via paddock or pasture
- Are there other horses being affected
- Be prepared to provide a complete feeding history that documents what is fed, how much is fed and the times of the feeding schedule
- Have signs or symptoms of other diseases been noted
You should expect that samples of feed will need to be provided for appropriate testing. Your veterinarian will also want to get blood samples and urine samples for lab testing and, in the case of deceased equine, biopsies of gastrointestinal tract, kidney and liver will likely be collected for laboratory evaluation.
Treatment of Nutritional Deficiencies in Horses
Your veterinary professional will need to develop a complete and balanced nutritional diet plan which will need to include sufficient quantities of water, sufficient calories, fiber, proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. He will also advise you to assure that sufficient quantities of clean, fresh water is available to your equine at all times except during the cooling off period that follows an exercise period.
Having an adequate supply of clean, fresh water will help aid in the digestive process, enabling the horse to get more of the nutrients that are available in his feed. He will need to treat the root systemic disease processes which are contributing to the nutritional deficiencies as well as provide a regimen to heal any gastric issues which may accompany this condition. If antibacterial medication or treatment was needed to heal the gut, your vet will need to prescribe appropriate supplements and feed to re-establish the normal digestive environment as well.
Recovery of Nutritional Deficiencies in Horses
If you’re not already familiar with the general nutritional needs of your equine, especially as they apply to age, gender, the type of work done, the climate of his home and the overall general health, then do your homework and make sure you understand the nutritional needs of your horse. Acquaint yourself with the type of feeding schedules needed for a healthy horse especially in keeping with the activities required of him. Make sure the horse’s teeth are sound and that you’re feeding food that has been prepared properly, is fresh and not moldy, dusty or frozen. It’s not a good idea to give your equine a feed that has been overly-processed and sweetened.
Assure a good supply of fresh and clean water at all times and get used to being very observant of the excrements of your horse. Watch and note changes in color, odor and consistency as these things give you a heads up if there is something that needs addressing. With proper diet, feeding regimens, plenty of water and careful monitoring, your equine should be able to heal and return to his activities and have limited recurrences of nutritional deficiencies.