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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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I have never raised a young horse. I have an 8mo old appendix quarter horse filly who has been diagnosed by a vet via x-rays the beginning stages of epiphisitis. I reduced her feed in half and switched her from alfalfa hay to only grass hay. Then a week later(yesterday) I get a call from my barn owner saying that she wont get up. She and another boarder tried for 1hr to get her up and no luck. She called a vet out and he concluded that she was very painful in her joints. They weren't sore upon palpation and flexation but she was beginning to buckle at the knees and hind ankles when she wasn't a week ago.
I spoke with the vet that first diagnosed her a week ago and said that he had never seen a horse progress so quickly with epiphisitis, and that it was serious. He recommended to take her off grain completely and give her continuous free choice grass hay but I have a really hard time seeing the logic in that. If a horse is growing too fast shouldn't you give them the nutritional support that they need to grow instead of depriving them of their nutrients? If you deprive them of their nutrients wont their bodies begin to take the nutrients from their own bodies beginning with fat then muscle then bone? Wouldn't this overall end up creating an underdeveloped horse? Why is it the vets always tell you to reduce or take them off their grain ration? Is there actual evidence based research that shows this cures the condition or improves it? What would you recommend?

P.S. Sorry if it seems like I have told you my life story. I am just really concerned for my horses health an future. Hope that this can help other people.

Where are you from? Michigan...burr

How did you locate this forum? Google

Re: Epiphisitis

Hello Amanda,

I believe your vet wants you to take the horse off of grain because starch can cause further damage to growing bones and joints.

She should have all the grass hay she wants, plus she should also have alfalfa. She needs the extra protein and calcium and alfalfa provides. Give her approximately 20% of her total hay ration as alfalfa.

The goal in treating Epiphisitis is twofold. First, you want to reduce calories to prevent too fast a growth rate. So, high fat and concentrated feeds should be avoided. And, second, starch needs to be eliminated (found in cereal grains such as oats, corn, or barley).

But, I agree with you ... she needs added nutrition that a comprehensive vitamin/mineral supplement would provide (such as Mare/Foal IIP). To feed this, you'll need some sort of "carrier" but choose one that is low in starch. You can go with beet pulp, or a low starch commercial feed such as Purina Wellsolve L/S or Triple Crown Low Starch.

So, avoid sweet feeds, and sweet treats (carrots and apples). If you want a treat that is low in sugar and starch, I know you'll enjoy giving herSkode's Treats.

But, she needs quality protein (which the grass and alfalfa mixture, together, will provide).

And finally, I would add a small amount of flax seed meal to her diet to provide essential omega 3 fatty acids. These will reduce inflammation, which she is experiencing in her joints. Go with Nutra Flax, since it does not have any added grain.

Keep me posted. If you need more assistance, I'd be delighted to set up a personal phone visit to go over her situation in more detail.

All the best,

Dr. Getty

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO

Re: Epiphisitis

I have a 9 month old filly who grew 3 1/2" in the last 8 weeks and experiencing pain in joints, straight pasterns, huge gaps in her knees...We have bred and raised babies for years and this is our first case of this. We have always fed alfalfa hay and a mill mixed 16% feed using liquid fat versus molasses. My vet also recommended pulling all grain but I too do not see the logic in pulling all grain. Oats/corn has been fed for years and now all of the sudden it is the forbidden feed... We have Nutrina feed store nearby and the Nutrena nutrionist is suggesting using their Litebalance formula. Would this be a good feed to feed her? We show halter horses and so what feed is recommended for our program to avoid these type of problems. Can this be a genetic problem versus a too much protein problem since our feeding program has been the same for years and this is our first baby to experience this condition? Thank you Diane

Where are you from? Indiana

How did you locate this forum? google search

Re: Epiphisitis

Hi Diane,

Certainly genetics can play a significant role in many, if not most, disorders. However, over the past few years there has been research to suggest that high starch diets -- those from cereal grains such as oats, corn, and barley -- can cause osteopathic disorders in growning horses.

And, the second consideration is that most growing horses are not worked, so they simply do not need the extra calories. Too many calories can lead to too fast a growth rate.

The best way to feed a growing horse is to provide all the grass hay he wants, along with approximately 20 to 30% of the hay ration as alfalfa. Have the hay analyzed to ensure enough lysine intake. Otherwise supplement Lysine to bring the level to at least 44 grams per day. This essential amino acid is necessary for proper tissue development. And, finally, fill in the nutritional gaps with a good vitamin/mineral supplement designed for growing horses.

If you feed a complete feed, as you mentioned, be sure it does not contain cereal grains and has at least 18% fiber. But, again, your filly may not require the additional calories. And, to get all the vitamin and mineral fortification, you would have to feed it according to directions. Using it, instead, as a "carrier" for supplements by feeding a small amount, would work nicely.

Thank you for writing about this very important topic.

All the best,

Dr. Getty

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO