Crafting an Equine Diet Plan with Health Concerns in Mind | Kent Feeds - Blue Seal
Crafting an Equine Diet Plan with Health Concerns in Mind

Crafting an Equine Diet Plan with Health Concerns in Mind

Your horse is part of your family, so when something seems off and you’re worried about their health, it can feel like your world is coming apart.

At Sentinel®, we strive to alleviate some of those concerns with feeds and supplements that are designed with a specific solution in mind. That way, you’re free to focus on giving them the best life possible.

In this article, we’ll explore feeding goals from our expert equine nutritionists for digestive concerns, metabolic conditions and desired body condition. You’ll also learn how the right diet can help maintain digestive health, immune support and whole-body wellness.

Complex digestion can bring complicated digestive issues.

As you know, horses have very long, complex and sometimes sensitive digestive systems.

That long gastrointestinal tract makes them vulnerable to complications when food doesn’t pass through efficiently. A seemingly mild digestive disturbance can at times quickly become an emergency.

To get a better understanding, let’s take a quick look at how food passes through a horse’s digestive system.

After it’s chewed and swallowed, food moves down the esophagus to the horse’s stomach before moving on to the small intestine. That’s the main site where proteins, simple carbohydrates (starch) and fats are absorbed.

Most digestion happens in the hindgut, made up of the cecum, large colon, small colon and rectum. The main function of the hindgut is microbial digestion or fermentation. Here, fibrous, complex carbs from forage are fermented with millions of beneficial microbes into usable, fatty acids.

The cecum is a large muscular sac at the junction of the small and large intestine. It serves as a storage site for water and electrolytes as more bacteria break down materials that weren’t digested before. If everything goes well, the food moves on to the colon, rectum and eventually out of your horse.

But because the entrance and exit to the cecum are at the top of the organ, it can lead to problems if a horse eats too much dry feed without enough water, or if the horse undergoes a rapid diet change. In both instances, materials can get compacted in the lower end of the cecum, causing stomach pain that can lead to digestive health concerns.

Extruded horse feed supports nutrient absorption and digestive health.

To better understand what nutritional products can help support your horse’s health, we should explain extruded feeds.

The processing of these formulas is designed to improve feed safety, encourage more natural eating behavior and increase digestibility to help minimize common digestive challenges that can lead to choke, colic and laminitis (founder).

Extruded means the ingredients are pressure-cooked, combining moisture, heat and pressure to shape ingredients into a light, airy nugget with more volume compared to horse pellets. It’s intended to foster more natural eating behavior by promoting a slower, healthier intake with more thorough chewing, which, in turn, can help prevent certain digestive upsets.

Research has shown that heat from extrusion also increases the digestibility of starch and protein, and in combination with high moisture, results in the greatest digestibility.1 Studies also suggest extrusion increases starch availability and digestion of grains in the small intestine.2,3

How prebiotics and probiotics for horses promote digestive health.

A variety of factors such as stress, sudden diet changes, poor feeding management and intestinal blockages can cause abdominal pain and digestive problems in your horse.

Abdominal pain, or colic, has many forms and underlying causes, and most are not related to diet. Good feed management, however, is critical in trying to prevent some of the more common types of colic in horses.

Providing an extruded feed that’s low in starch and sugar may reduce excess starch fermentation and gas production in the hindgut of the digestive tract. This can help minimize gas-related colic and keep your horse healthier for the long term. In addition to good feed management, be sure your horse stays hydrated and has a regular deworming program.

1 National Research Council. 2007. Nutrient Requirements of Horses 6th rev. ed. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

2 I. Vervuert, K. Voigt, T. Hollands, D. Cuddeford, M. Coenen. 2008. Effects of Processing Barley on its Digestion by Horses. The Veterinary Record. 162-21:684-688.

3 J. Holm, I. Lundquist, I. Bjorck, A. C. Eliasson, N. G. Asp. 1988. Degree of Starch Gelatinization, Digestion Rate of Starch in Vitro, and Metabolic Response in Rats. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 47, 1010-1016.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is another digestive health concern that can be caused by a variety of factors. These may include stress from high-level training or performance, travel or other environmental stressors, type of diet (high starch and sugar), feeding management and long-term use of certain medications.

To prevent or manage ulcers, paying close attention to feed management and feed type will help tremendously. Feeding smaller meals more often, especially when large amounts of grain or concentrates are needed, and decreasing the level of starch and sugar in the diet may help with ulcer prevention or management.

If extra calories are needed to support body condition, consider a low-starch, low-sugar horse feed with higher fat levels, like Sentinel Performance LS, Sentinel Grow & Excel or Sentinel Active Senior. Each are extruded feeds designed to promote easier digestion and are formulated with gutWise Technology.

There are also some supplements that are extremely helpful for horses with ulcers or prone to ulcers. Some supplements may also be beneficial for horses with other digestive-associated challenges, such as leaky gut syndrome. Supplements like Sentinel Care Gastric Support help maintain digestive and gut health with an exclusive blend of prebiotics, probiotics, marine-sourced calcium, butyrate, zinc and NutriVantage® for horses.

Considerations when feeding for metabolic health.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is associated with inability to regulate blood insulin levels.

If your horse is experiencing this metabolic condition, you may notice more fat in certain areas on your horse’s body and challenges with weight loss, depending on the stage of the disorder. EMS can lead to laminitis, as well as other health problems related to obesity and insulin dysregulation.

To help prevent EMS, focus on maintaining a normal, healthy weight especially in higher-risk breeds. Regular exercise is also important. Use particular care when turning horses out on pasture when soluble carbohydrate content is elevated in spring and summer.

For horses with EMS, our equine nutritionists recommend strict feeding management. This includes limiting total starch and sugar, along with restricting overall calories. Consider a grain muzzle when turned out on pasture. You may consider an extruded, low-calorie horse feed, like Sentinel Simply Lite. It is a balanced and concentrated feed with lower fat. It is a great option for easy keepers, ponies and miniature horses, along with certain horses where maintenance of digestive and metabolic health is a challenge.

A ration balancer supplement for horses, like Sentinel Care Equine Choice® Topline 30, can also be a great choice for horses with EMS. It is designed to provide protein, minerals and vitamins with a low feeding rate and is ideal for horses not requiring extra calories from grain. And it is formulated to provide essential nutrients for horses on restricted feeding plans.

Finding the right equine supplement to maintain weight.

Horses can get too heavy or too thin for a variety of reasons. Body condition can be affected by overall health, environmental conditions, age, activity level, metabolism, genetics, feed management, feed type and quantity.

To get a better understanding of their nutritional needs, you should first assess their body condition. You can do that with our body condition score card, based on the Henneke Scoring System. It ranks the neck, withers, shoulders, ribs, loins and tailhead with a one to nine score—one being very emaciated and nine being extremely obese.

To apply the scale, visually and physically examine the different points and assign a score based on muscle and fat composition. More fat means a higher score, while too little signals a lower score. Your goal should be in the healthy four to six range based on the breed, life stage, activity level and living conditions of your horse.

For heavy horses, an extruded, concentrated, low-calorie horse feed, like Sentinel Simply Lite, or a low-fat horse feed, like Sentinel Senior, is designed to provide more nutrition without the extra calories. Sentinel Care Equine Choice Topline 30, mentioned earlier, is another good option for obese horses that must lose weight. It provides concentrated nutrition with a low feeding rate.

On the other end of the scale, for thin horses, our equine nutritionists recommend a high-fat horse feed, like Sentinel Performance LS, Sentinel Active Senior, Sentinel XT Show, or Sentinel XT Pro. Each of these formulas contain high fat (10% or more), and are either 100% extruded, or include highly digestible extruded nuggets in the formulation to help maintain overall body condition.

A high-fat extruded horse supplement, like Sentinel Care Omegatin®, provides additional calories. The high-fat ingredients provide low-starch calories to help maintain body condition without increasing the grain ration.

Ask your veterinarian about adding a Sentinel horse feed or supplement to your care plan.

If you’re unsure if your horse’s feed is right for its current health condition, it’s important to contact your veterinarian and/or Sentinel horse feed experts. Based on their recommendations, consider asking if Sentinel feed and supplement formulas can help support your horse’s health and encourage a happy, healthy life.

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