What feed would you recommend for horses with Cushing’s disease and/or insulin resistance? My six-year-old, 15.2-hand Andalusian gelding is possibly pre-Cushing’s, so I am treating him as a potential candidate. So, there is nothing definitive, but he is an extremely easy keeper.
Most horses diagnosed with insulin resistance are overweight, obese, or super easy keepers. Most of them do not need the calories found in a fully fortified textured or pelleted feed, particularly one with a recommended feeding rate of over 4 lb per day.
There are high-fiber feeds on the market that are advertised as being useful for horses with insulin resistance. Recommended feeding rates for these products are too high for an overweight horse. Calories are calories whether they come from fiber, starch, sugar, or fat. If more calories are consumed than used, the horse will either gain weight or remain overweight. The high-fiber feeds are suitable for horses with insulin resistance that are having difficulty maintaining weight.
There are two reasonable options for easy keepers: a ration balancer or a vitamin/mineral supplement. If you are not familiar with ration balancers, click here to learn more. Ration balancers are very useful feeds; they supply all of the protein, vitamin, and mineral needs to balance a mostly forage diet in a small amount of feed. The typical feeding rate for the average horse is usually around 1 lb per day (less than a small coffee can). Ration balancers are usually low-starch, low-calorie pelleted feeds. They may cost more for a 50-lb bag than typical feeds, but so much less feed is consumed per day that it ends up being more economical. Because a ration balancer adds few calories to the diet, it makes an excellent grain choice for the insulin resistant horse. If you are interested, Kentucky Equine Research (KER) has a ration balancer called All-Phase that is available in select parts of the country.
For the obese horse that really needs to shed a few pounds, the other option is a supplement that is specifically made to balance an all-forage diet. There are two primary differences between this type of product and a ration balancer: (1) the feeding rate is much lower with the supplement, usually 2 to 4oz per day, while a ration balancer is closer to 1 lb, and (2) a ration balancer will supply protein, calcium, and phosphorus to the diet, and this type of product is basically supplying trace minerals and vitamins. KER makes this type of product as well, called I.R. Pellet, that has added benefits for the horse with insulin resistance including cinnamon and higher levels of zinc. Contact KER by calling 859-873-1988 if you would like more information on ordering the product.
These recommendations are suitable for the Cushing’s horse that tends toward the heavy side and is insulin resistant. If Cushing’s progresses and the horse starts to have difficulty maintaining weight or needs to gain weight, then a feed that is high in fiber is suitable for that horse. Depending on the severity of insulin resistance, the high-fiber feeds with high fat are useful for putting weight on the horse. However, if the insulin resistance is severe, then high-fat feed can provoke the problem.
Andalusians are beautiful horses but are notoriously difficult to keep in optimal weight. A ration balancer is the biggest selling feed of our Team Member in Spain, a company that supplies many farms that have Andalusian-type (PRE) horses, because the horses tend to be easy keepers.