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Feed Management for Horses with Neurologic DiseasesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 21, 2014

Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and both eastern (EEE) and western (WEE) equine encephalomyelitis are neurologic diseases that can be spread to horses by insects. Lyme disease is spread by ticks, while the other diseases are spread by mosquitoes. Preventive vaccines have been developed to protect horses against West Nile, EEE, and WEE infection, but there is no vaccine for Lyme disease. Prevention of this disease involves management steps such as avoiding pasturing horses where ticks are abundant, using insect repellent sprays or wipes, and checking horses frequently to find and remove ticks.

If a horse shows neurologic signs such as difficulty balancing, uncertainty in moving, or any type of incoordination, a veterinarian should be asked to examine the horse. The veterinarian may need to do blood tests or other laboratory analyses as well as a physical examination. If the diagnosis is a neurologic disease, drug therapy can be started. Supportive care may also be necessary, especially for horses that have difficulty standing, moving, or eating.

Nutritional support is extremely important in helping affected horses recover. Dr. Kathleen Crandell, senior nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research, offered these suggestions for feeding equines with neurologic disease.

  • Any nutritional plan should include as much grazing as possible, either by pasture turnout or by hand-grazing the horse. Diets should be based on forage.
  • If the horse has trouble balancing while its head is lowered to graze, hay can be offered in a haynet that is raised to a position that allows the horse comfortable access.
  • Hay and water should be placed close together for stalled horses so that they are not forced to move around.
  • Proper nutrition can support the equine immune response and reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in deodorized, flavored fish oil (such as EO•3™) deliver both of these therapeutic effects, as will natural-source vitamin E and selenium. Nano•E® provides a highly bioavailable natural (d-α-tocopherol), water soluble source of vitamin E to horses through a unique delivery system. Preserve PS (available as Preserve in Australia) also provides superior antioxidant protection with natural vitamin E, organic selenium, vitamin C, and magnesium.
  • For neurologic diseases that cause joint pain and swelling, supplements that provide glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid can ease discomfort and improve joint function.
  • Antibiotics are used to combat some neurologic disease, but this therapy may lead to gastrointestinal upsets in some horses. Probiotics and yeast supplements can minimize these reactions.
  • If horses are unable to grasp, chew, or swallow forage or other feedstuffs, it may be necessary to supply nutrition through a nasogastric tube. A veterinarian needs to be consulted for this procedure.