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  • Q:

    My 18-year-old, 1,900-lb (865-kg) gelding is in moderate body condition. Though he’s been off for the winter, I plan to start riding him again soon. He tends to get gas colic when the grass is just beginning to grow in the spring. Once spring is over, though, he’s not gassy at all. When the weather improves, he will be out on grass, so I am looking for a possible solution to the gassiness before spring grass arrives. In addition, because of his heaves, he is on a textured feed that contains little dust. His hay is moistened prior to giving it to him. Can you provide nutritional advice for these health concerns?

  • A:

    You have established appropriate nutritional and management practices to help minimize your gelding’s heaves.

    Omega-3 fatty acids can mitigate inflammatory processes, and dietary supplementation of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be an effective therapeutic approach when coupled with a low-dust diet to reduce airway inflammatory symptoms. Supplementing with marine-derived sources, such as EO•3, means the horse is directly receiving the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Supplementation with plant-based sources (flaxseed, for example) require the conversion of short-chain fatty acids (ALA) to EPA and DHA. This conversion is thought to be inefficient in the horse. Those horses with heaves may benefit from daily supplementation of EO•3 at 2-4 oz, particularly when environmental conditions are less than ideal.

    To address his tendency for developing gassiness due to the lush, spring grass, I would start by feeding EquiShure, a time-released buffer about 2-4 weeks prior to the start of the growing season. EquiShure works in the hindgut to minimize fluctuations in pH caused by rapid fermentation of sugars (fructans) found in certain cool-season grasses.

    Because spring grass grows quickly, it is often very low in indigestible fiber. When combined with the fact that horses often tend to overindulge due to the sweet taste and low dry matter content, this can lead to large amounts of rapidly fermentable material entering the hindgut, resulting in excess gas production, a drop in hindgut pH, and loose manure. Providing EquiShure before he starts grazing the spring pasture acts as a preventive measure to reduce or eliminate the signs of gassiness he typically displays. For your horse, I would start feeding 60 g per day (30 g in the morning, 30 g in the evening) and increase to 120 g per day (60 g on each end of the day) when the grass starts growing faster.

    In addition to providing EquiShure, implementing a slow and gradual introduction to spring pasture can also help the digestive tract adapt to the change in diet. To avoid problems when turning horses out on spring pastures, limit grazing time to half-hour segments several times a day and gradually increase the number and length of these access periods. Continue to offer hay to horses turned out on fresh pasture, as the new grass contains high moisture levels and very little fiber. Use grazing muzzles to limit the amount of grass the horse can eat if overconsumption is a concern.

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