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  • Q:

    My gelding Teensy is 20 years old and weighs about 900 lb (410 kg). He’s moderately thin, a body condition score of 4, give or take. He was diagnosed with laminitis 18 months ago. He is given grass hay and light turnout. What can I do to foster weight gain?

  • A:

    To encourage weight gain, Teensy’s diet should provide more digestible energy (calories). This can be achieved in several ways. Because he is currently on a hay-only diet, assessing the quality and amount of the grass hay he is consuming daily is the first step to figuring out if a change to a higher quality forage is all he needs or if he requires higher-calorie concentrate feeds added to his ration.

    Because Teensy has a history of laminitis, the additional calories provided need to be low in starch and sugar (nonstructural carbohydrates). Fermentable fiber and dietary fat are great sources of calories for Teensy. Supplementing low- to moderate-quality grass hay with beet pulp (unmolassed or rinsed) and alfalfa can boost the energy content while still providing a high-fiber diet.

    Alternatively, to simplify Teensy’s diet you can offer him free-choice access to a low-NSC hay, one with less than 12% NSC. Legume mixes or early harvested grass hays often have higher energy content than late-stage grass hay; however, to really know what your hay is providing, it is recommended to have a nutritional analysis done to identify the different energy fractions: NSC, digestible fiber, and indigestible fiber.

    Weight gain requires an appropriate calorie intake as well as complete nutrition. Forage does not provide optimal amounts of trace minerals and vitamins. Even nonworking horses must receive supplemental vitamin and mineral fortification, with a ration balancer or a concentrated micronutrient product like, I.R. Pellet, Micro-Max, or Gold Pellet.

    If Teensy needs more calories than a high-fiber diet can provide, the next step would be to feed a dietary fat source or commercially available low-NSC feed, one with less than 20% NSC. Suitable high-fat feedstuffs include vegetable oil (soybean or canola oil), flaxseed, and stabilized rice bran. Because Teensy needs to gain weight, he needs an energy dense but low-NSC feed that contains high amounts of fermentable fiber and dietary fat (6-14%), some low-NSC feeds provide the same amount of calories as hay, and they are formulated for easy keepers. When feeding a commercial feed for weight gain, it is best to feed based on the horse’s target weight rather than the actual weight.

    Kentucky Equine Research has several products designed to support horses with metabolic conditions, including products recommended for horses with laminitis. EquiShure is designed to balance the pH of the cecum and large intestine to promote optimal digestive health and function. Horses with laminitis may have a drop in hindgut pH and disruption in microbial populations, and supplementation with EquiShure can help to correct these digestive issues. Horses maintained on hay-only diets may not be receiving adequate vitamin E, and supplementation with natural-source vitamin E is recommended due to its many physiological roles. The most bioavailable source of vitamin E is natural-source and water-dispersible, such as Nano•E. Stressed or metabolically challenged horses may have a higher dietary requirement for vitamin E that is best addressed through targeted supplementation.

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