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Horses have unique feeding and nutrition needs in the mammal world, and a good understanding of how they digest and use food is necessary to keeping your horse healthy. First of all, the horse’s large size belies its relatively small stomach. Its digestive system was designed to digest small amounts of forage all day long—not for eating two or three large meals at fixed times during the day. Also, the horse’s digestive tract is very sensitive to impurities. Because they cannot vomit, there is no way for horses to quickly eliminate contaminated food from their bodies. This can lead to colic, which is extremely painful and can be deadly. So it is important to provide your horse a clean, slow and steady supply of nutritious food and plenty of clean, fresh water. The horse’s long, complex and sensitive digestive tract also requires that you never abruptly change his or her diet.
Horse Nutrition Needs at Various Life Stages
Your horse needs the following basic nutritional elements to stay healthy: water, carbohydrates (for energy), protein (for tissue support), minerals and vitamins.
It is important to ensure that a clean, bacteria- and algae-free source of fresh water is constantly available to your horse all day, all year round to prevent dehydration. Keeping your horse well watered in the summer is important, but also be sure that your horse’s water source does not freeze in the winter.
Typically, horses get their energy from eating grasses and hay in small amounts throughout the day. Not all horses have the same energy intake requirements. Lactating mares, growing horses and horses with a heavy work or exercise load need the most energy, whereas older horses and horses that do not have a heavy workload need less. It is important to find the right balance for your horse by working with your veterinarian. Any sudden changes in diet, particularly a rise in the level of sugars and starches, can lead to dangerous colic, colitis or laminitis.
Our vets are happy to discuss your horses nutritional needs and to help adjust the diet in order to address weight loss, weight gain, endocrine disease or dental inefficiency. We are also able to demystify the decision making involved in sorting through the many choices regarding feed supplements and additives. We can also help with feed/hay analysis to determine whether your hay is appropriate for your horses use, age, and dentition.