Nutritional support for injured equines

Is your horse injured? Here’s how to support her with nutrition throughout the recovery process.

When a horse is injured or otherwise ill, her daily routine is likely to change, both in terms of turnout and exercise. The horse’s diet therefore needs to be adjusted to account for these changes, as well as to support her in her recovery.

Feeding an injured horse requires striking a careful balance. Proper equine nutrition may be commonly considered as important for optimal performance, but the role it plays in supporting healing must not be underestimated.

Here are some important factors to consider when feeding an injured equine.

Vital fiber

Even minor injuries can require that a horse be confined to her stable for rest and recuperation, so it’s vital that she has access to plenty of dietary fiber to support normal gut function.

Microorganisms in a horse’s hind gut break down fiber to create an important source of slow-release energy. These microorganisms also support the immune system and aid recovery from any infections, particularly those within the digestive tract.

Reducing concentrates

Any concentrate volume reduction should be accompanied by an increase in the amount of forage provided. When a horse is resting for long periods of time, she may require some concentration to maintain her overall condition depending upon her body condition. Introducing a high fiber cube gradually over four or five days after the original diet has been reduced can be considered.

Fresh, nutritional pasture

Given that the nutritional values within conserved forages like hay are generally lower than that of pasture, and concentrate quantities must be reduced when a horse is in prolonged rest, her overall intake of nutrients can drop significantly.

In these circumstances, a feed balancer can be ideal, as it provides horses with all the quality protein, vitamins and minerals they require for both maintenance and repair, but without the levels of energy that could create digestive and behavioral upsets.

Pre and post-biotics

When changing a horse’s diet quickly, introducing ‘digestive enhancers’ like pre and post-biotics can be beneficial in aiding the microorganisms to adapt more easily to the changes. This, too, may reduce the risk of suffering unpleasant digestive upsets as she recovers.

Healing feed

During convalescence, it is essential to provide adequate nutrition to aid soft tissue healing and maintain overall health. Amino acids, for example, are essential for soft tissue construction and repair, as they are the building blocks of protein.

Some amino acids must be provided via the horse’s diet, as she cannot synthesize them on her own. Forages do not typically contain high enough quality proteins to supply sufficient essential amino acids, although alfalfa is a particularly good source of lysine. Again, it can be useful to introduce a feed balancer or amino acid supplement to ensure that the horse receives all the amino acids required to heal her injured tissues.

Reducing carbohydrates

When it is recommended to reduce carbohydrates, such as in the case of azoturia (muscle damage) or laminitis, oil can be an excellent alternative fat source of calories that are non-heating.

Supporting healthy muscle and nerve function

Inadequate sources of vitamin E can impair nerve, immune and muscle functions, which in turn may slow down healing. Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant that minimizes the damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress at a cellular level. Injured horses require higher levels of vitamin E to counteract the increased demands placed on their immune system.

Vitamin E is abundant in fresh green grass, however its potency declines quickly once the forage is harvested and dried, so it is best to supplement an injured horse’s diet with a source of highly absorbable vitamin E.

Final thoughts

When a horse is injured, she faces changes in diet and exercise that can place additional stress above and beyond the injury itself. It is important to fully support her in her recovery by introducing targeted nutrients to aid her in recovering faster and maintaining overall condition and well-being. Consult with your veterinarian for further guidance and support.