Tommy, my seven-year-old barrel-racing gelding (1,100 lb or 500 kg; BCS of 6), was diagnosed with a mild case of recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) several months ago. He generally has a “start-up” cough but limited coughing during exercise. He has loud breathing and mild discharge after exercise. In addition to hay and pasture, Tommy is fed 1 lb of a low-starch feed, 1 cup ground flaxseed, ¼ cup rice bran oil, a natural vitamin E powder, and an expectorant powder before and after competition. I am happy with Tommy’s weight but would like advice on nutritional solutions to his RAO. Would an omega-3 supplement such as EO•3 help him?
Based on the information you provided, I have some recommendations to help fortify Tommy’s diet and manage the airway concerns. His current diet is successfully maintaining his weight, but it is not providing the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health for a horse in work. The low-starch feed he’s given now is designed to be fed at a minimum of 3 lb (1.4 kg) a day for idle horses and slightly higher for performance horses. Feeding Tommy less than the recommended amount is leaving him short on important vitamins and minerals.
An easy way to top-up the nutrients in his diet without feeding more is to add a micronutrient supplement. KERx Special Needs Nutrition supplement Micro-Max includes proper levels of high-quality vitamins and chelated minerals. Adding 120 g of Micro-Max to his diet will fulfill his requirements. Horsemen in Australia should look for Gold Pellet to fortify the diets of performance horses fed straight grains or products below the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Instead of using rice bran oil and flax, I recommended using a premium source of DHA and EPA, two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that confer numerous health benefits. As you mentioned in your question, this can be achieved through the use of EO•3. Daily supplementation of DHA and EPA can help modulate the immune response and reduce the severity of allergic reactions. Marine‐derived sources of DHA and EPA have been found to be more biologically potent than plant‐based sources (flax) of short-chain omega‐3 fatty acids (alpha‐linolenic or ALA). Supplementing with 2 oz of EO•3 daily will help to mediate everyday inflammatory responses, strengthen immunity, and allergic activity.
Rice bran oil is very similar to corn oil in that it still has more omega-6s than omega-3s. The goal is to provide more omega-3s to balance the ratio and reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to help horses with respiratory conditions. When introducing EO•3 to Tommy’s diet, do so gradually by starting with less than 15 ml or a few teaspoons. Mix it thoroughly in feed or use an oral syringe to get him familiar with the taste.
Another suggestion for horses with respiratory conditions is replacing some of the long-stem hay with a pelleted or cubed forage source for dust control. Long-stem hay can get very dusty and cause respiratory irritation. Tommy still needs regular hay in his diet for digestive health, but the amount can be reduced significantly if pellets or cubes are added to his diet. Hay can be wet down to reduce dust.
While traveling, additional supplementation for digestive health and antioxidant support is recommended. Because of the stress of travel and lack of fresh grass, I suggest amping up his vitamin E routine for competition. Nano•E is a nanodispersed liquid natural-source E that outperforms other vitamin E products, especially powders.
Maintaining digestive health with a total digestive tract buffer, such as RiteTrac, is advised for horses that are prone to gastric ulcers and hindgut acidosis. It is important to note that Tommy will require more forage when grass is not available. Providing forage consistently throughout the day also promotes digestive motility and reduces the risk of gastric ulcers.
The other important supplements for optimal performance at competition are electrolytes. If Tommy receives furosemide, better known as Lasix, on the days he runs, I recommend using Race Recovery. This electrolyte was specifically designed to replenish electrolytes in horses given furosemide. Learn more about the effects of furosemide and recovery and how Race Recovery can help.
Although management changes can be challenging, reducing the amount of time Tommy spends inside will also help his RAO. When he must be inside, be mindful of dusty conditions and wet dusty aisleways whenever possible. Choose a stall that has an open ceiling, not one with hay stored overhead. Also, consider low-dust bedding options. Finally, when travelling, tie Tommy in a safe way that allows him to lower his head and clear his respiratory tract as needed. Horses tied too high and tight cannot properly expel contaminants from respiratory tissues.
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