Nutritional Needs for Insulin Resistant & Cushings Horses
Diet is extremely important for insulin resistance control, and can help prevent or even reverse complications like excessive weight gain or loss, muscle wasting and weakness, abnormal fat deposition, and laminitis. Much of the information you gain will be new to you but its soundly based in science. With time you'll find it makes a lot of sense and isn't nearly so difficult as it may have seemed initially.
Step one is to implement the Emergency Diet. This will help address some of the most common important deficiencies and lower the simple carbohydrate portion of your horse's diet. If it turns out your horse is not insulin resistant, no harm is done. This diet is appropriate as a base for any horse, although working, growing, and pregnant horses will have special needs for calories and mineral levels. For more specific diet questions on working, growing, and pregnant horses diagnosed with PPID and/or IR please join the ECIR Outreach Group.
Many horses experience a dramatic improvement in the symptoms listed above within days to a few weeks using just the emergency diet. However, this diet doesn't necessarily complement the forage you are feeding to create a totally balanced diet needed to support the horse in terms of mineral ratios. For optimum long term control and general health, you need to have a hay analysis done so that specific mineral levels can be used that match the profile of your hay and other adjustments so that protein, amino acid, and vitamin needs are met on an individual basis as needed.
While there are many companies that do forage analysis, each is a bit different in their evaluation of sugar and starch. These are crucial for your horse's Equi-Analytical/DairyOne's equine division.
For United States and International horse owners request Equi-Analytical. Request Test #603, which includes sugar, starch, and appropriate minerals. (http://www.equi-analytical.com).
For Canadian horse owners, A&L Labratories offers similar testing which is suitable for assessing the sugar & starch content of your forage as well as all the major & trace mineral components. (http://www.alcanada.com)
The initial/emergency diet is very simple. Note: ALL weights are based on DRY (before soaking) weight. (A great way to weigh your feed is with a fish scale and bucket or hay bag.)
Grass hay - preferably a very late season cutting of grass hay. Timothy, orchard grass and bermuda tend towards lower simple sugars and starch content. Avoid alfalfa unless the horse is known to have tolerated it without problems in the past. The color of the hay has nothing to do with the sugar content. Until you've had the hay analyzed you should soak the hay before feeding to reduce sugars by up to ~30%, (1/2 hour hot water, 1 hour cold water), drain and feed at about 1.5%-2.0% of ideal body weight minimum (i.e. 15-20 lbs/day for a 1000 pound horse). If your horse is overweight, feed at a rate of 1.5% of his current weight, or 2% of his ideal weight , whichever is larger. Do NOT underfeed/starve the horse. Bed your horse on shavings rather than straw, as some horses will eat straw.
Beet pulp - Beet pulp is used as a carrier for supplements/mineral recommendations. Rinse BP prior to soaking to remove surface contamination (Iron) until the water runs clear. Soak the BP in hot or cold water and rinse. It may take a little time for them to get used to the beet pulp. Making it a little wetter or a little dryer can help some take to it quicker, but don't give up if they turn their nose up the first few times.
If you cannot soak the hay (e.g. freezing temperatures), substitute BP for 1/3rd of the hay at a ratio of 1 part BP to 2 parts hay. In other words, if you should be feeding 15 lbs of hay, feed 10 lbs hay and 2 lbs of BP. Substituting BP for hay lowers the glycemic index of the diet, advisable if insulin levels are high. Because BP is more digestible than hays, it's also a good choice for the underweight horse. If horse is very underweight, substitute 1/3rd of the estimated hay requirement with beet pulp but do it on a pound for pound basis.
Most horses enjoy BP but ill/stressed horses can be picky. If not well accepted, try adding one of the following: peppermint extract, beet root or anise powder, sugar-free flavorings, sage, a tablespoon or so of wheat germ, or a few hay cubes. Test your horse's level of interest in these flavorings before actually making up a batch of beet pulp you may have to throw away.
Do NOT Feed -
- Pelleted or senior feeds, etc. that contain grain products or molasses (read the label)
- Grass of any kind (even if it looks dead)
- Carrots or apples or sugar containing treats
- Beet pulp with molasses
Do Feed -
- Iodized salt - 1 to 2 oz. a day (approximately 1 to 2 heaping Tablespoons). Regular iodized table salt added to the beet pulp is fine. Do not feed kelp with idoized salt.
Magnesium 1.5 grams/day per 500 lbs body weight (only as a short term measure until hay analysis can confirm if it is actually needed or not, and how much). Can use human supplement, or get feed grade magnesium oxide from a feed mill 1/2 teaspoon magnesium oxide provides approximately 1.5 grams magnesium.
Vitamin E 1000 IU/day per 500 lbs body weight (again, human supplement may be easiest, i.e. soft gel caps added to beet pulp)
- Flax 3 oz fresh ground flax seed or use stabilized flax
Most ECIR Group Members have added these items to the BP. Some have sifted onto wet hay. Many have found slowly adding salt will help tempt the finicky eater. Have your hay analyzed as soon as possible so that a mineral supplementation program can be started that directly matches the levels in the base diet. This is not expensive and is a vast improvement over using pre-mixed vitamin/mineral supplements. Get started with the changes noted above, and the ECIR Group can help you as soon as you are ready to get the hay analysis.
Please note this is only a TEMPORARY measure, not intended for long time use. The odds of this diet being adequately mineral balanced are very low. The hay only or hay and BP part won't change but depending on the sugar/starch level in your hay you may not need to soak it and mineral needs may be vastly different from the ball park figures used in the Emergency Diet, including a need to supplement some or all of the following: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and iodine.
ECIR Group Inc. and Dr. Eleanor Kellon, VMD © 2009