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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition

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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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Tying up and stressing over my feed program (long)


My seven-year-old Arabian stallion has suffered two episodes of azoturia (tying up) in the past four months.

The first one happened right after Christmas. My husband and I had gone out of town, and the girl barnsitting accidently switched him from Nutrena SafeChoice to Nutrena Life Design Youth (along with the whole barn) for the week we were gone. A few days after we got home I lunged him for 20 minutes with tack, and he tied up during the walk down. He did not warm up well because he was being silly, bucking and playing and refusing to walk. I did a phone consult with a vet who thought he might have had gas colic, and I left him in the rest of the day with 1 gm bute and plenty of hay.

Just this past week, it happened again. After 20 minutes in the round pen, he was breathing hard but not blowing and while I was walking him he tied up. This time I had a vet out to draw blood and send off to confirm the episode. His AST level was 1600 and CK was over 13,000. Potassium was a little high at 5.2. Before this last episode, I had started feeding him straight alfalfa because I was running out of my orchard/alfalfa mix. I don't know if the increased protein is coincidental or not.

My normal feeding program was 1.75 pounds SafeChoice and a cup sunnie/flax AM. Two cups (dry measure) soaked beet pulp pellets, 1.75 pounds SafeChoice, 1 cup sunnie/flax and a dose of HorseGuard Se/Vit E in the PMs with one flake mixed hay twice a day (~7-10 pounds?). I have bumped the SafeChoice down to about one pound each feeding and added one cup beet pulp to the AM meal, also got in G.U.T. (ulcer issue) and have added that starting Thurs. I have switched him to straight orchard grass hay as well.

I think, since he is clipped, that he was extremely cold and didn't warm up properly, which caused the episodes. I had lunged him once between the two episodes for 20 minutes plus and worked him harder than both other times, but it was in the evening after he had been out all day. The others happened in the morning after being stalled. Due to weather, I have not worked him more than this. He was worked very hard (hour long riding sessions, jumping included, hard work) during the summer and never had a issue, and the only diet change was he was getting more beet pulp (2 cups 2x) and more SafeChoice (~2.5 pounds) per feeding to keep weight on during the work. He has been bumped down this winter due to lack of work.

I think this is more of a management issue, but do you see any glaring faults in my feeding program? We are Se deficient here in W. Wash. and I have a call into my vet to pick his brain about that. His concern earlier this week was potassium levels.


Where are you from? Washington state

How did you locate this forum? Google

Re: Tying up and stressing over my feed program (long)

Hi Jennifer,

There are several things that come to mind from your description.

First, when you mentioned that the feed was changed temporarily from a low starch feed (Safe Choice) to one that is higher in starch and sugar, in made me wonder if he may suffer from Equine Polysaccharide Myopathy (EPSM). However, you are now feeding in line with this disorder by avoiding grain.

Next, and this is probably not the case, does your horse have an HYPP gene? If he were heterozygous, he could experience mild cases of tying up.

But, more than likely, from the bloodwork that you described, it is due to anaerobic metabolism kicking in while exercising. This will cause an increase in the liver enzymes AST and CK. Also, lactic acid builds up in the muscles. For this situation, I would suggest Lactanase to assist in getting him past the anaerobic stage. You see, during exercise, glucose is first metabolized anaerobically before fat can be aerobically oxidized for energy. So, go really slow at first, provide Lactanase, and watch his breathing. If it gets very heavy, he is in an anaerobic state.

The alfalfa is a good thing actually, because it provides more of the branch-chain amino acids which are needed during exercise (lysine, isoleucine, and valine).

The elevated potassium is an indication that he is not getting enough salt in his diet. I would recommend adding salt to his feed -- 2 tablespoons per day of plain table salt.

And, finally, a good multiple vitamin/mineral supplement that is high in antioxidants. I know you are feeding selenium and vitamin E. These are very important in removing free radicals formed during exercise. But, there are other nutrients that you need to add to fill in the gaps. PreOx is one worth looking at.

I hope this is helpful. Please keep me posted on his progress.

All the best,

Dr. Getty

Re: Tying up and stressing over my feed program (long)

No, no HYPP. He is an Arabian, and they don't carry that gene. I've also been wondering about EPSM, and will more than likely have a muscle biopsy done soon. Thank you for your response :)

Re: Tying up and stressing over my feed program (long)

Hi Jennifer,

I got so caught up in reading all that you wrote, that I missed the fact that he is an Arabian!

Please let me know what you learn from your vet.

All the best,

Dr. Getty

Re: Tying up and stressing over my feed program (long)

Hi there

Sorry, I do tend to run off at the mouth, or in this case, the fingers!

I am talking with several local nutritionists, cooperative extension livestock advisors and will be calling Nutrena (what I prefer) reps tomorrow for ideas. I think I am going to increase the fat in his diet by perhaps switching him from SafeChoice to Empower, which is spendy...but then so was he!

Thanks again for the helpful reply and more ideas to look into!

Jennifer :)