Insulin Resistance in Horses

Insulin Resistance in Horses Blog

What is Equine Insulin Resistance?

The most basic explanation when discussing Insulin Resistance in horses is that we are dealing with an insulin problem within the horse. When a horse consumes carbohydrates, the pancreas is triggered to produce and release insulin. Insulin regulates and lowers glucose levels in the bloodstream by assisting the transport of glucose into the cells. When we have an Insulin Resistance problem, the cells become resistant to the action of insulin. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin in the attempt to regulate blood sugar. Blood glucose levels begin to rise along with insulin levels when the pancreas reaches the limit of insulin production. 

Horses at Risk of Insulin Resistance

Although all horses are at risk of developing insulin resistance, factors such as age, diet, exercise, and genetics can increase the risk. For example, certain breeds are more conducive to developing insulin resistance. These breeds include:

  • Morgans
  • Pasa Finos
  • Andalusians
  • Arabians
  • Peruvian Pasos
  • Mustangs
  • Ponies
  • Minis
  • Donkeys

Another example is the average age of these horses. If we look at the correlation between age and Insulin Resistance, horses in the 5-15 age range are predisposed to the development of Insulin Resistance. Insulin Resistance is a metabolic issue, so diet and weight also play a significant factor. Horses that are overweight with a body condition score (BCS) between 7 and 9 or who receive diets rich in sugar and carbs have a higher risk of developing Insulin Resistance than a horse who receives regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Clinical Signs of Equine Insulin Resistance

Overweight Horse
Horse with a Body Condition Score of 8

Since Insulin Resistance is a metabolic problem occurring within the horse, it may be difficult to see the signs of a problem. A common warning sign that can be associated with the development of Insulin Resistance is an obese horse.  Other signs we can look at include:

  • Fast weight gain
  • Inability to lose weight
  • Fatty deposits on the body of the horse
  • Development of a “cresty” neck
  • Loss of topline
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Inflammation
  • Frequent bouts of laminitis

Laminitis & Insulin Resistance

Most Insulin Resistant horses are prone to bouts of laminitis. This can be attributed to the abundance of fat tissue, which is extremely common in insulin-resistant horses. In overweight horses, research has uncovered evidence that there is an “insulin resistance” hormone factor produced by the excessive adipose (fat) tissue that contributes to the cells’ inability to uptake glucose from the bloodstream. Adipose tissue may also contribute to higher cortisol levels.  The high glucose and cortisol levels are inflammatory and therefore predispose the horse to laminitis. We highly recommend including a quality hoof supplement in the diet of these Insulin Resistant horses

Preventing Insulin Resistance in Horses

The first ten years of your horse’s life often sets the stage for the development of metabolic conditions. Horse owners should start providing the correct nutrients and a balanced diet to the horse at conception. This balanced diet must be continued throughout the horse’s life to maintain health and prevent future metabolic problems. Other factors that can help prevent the development of Insulin Resistance:

  • Regular work and/or exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy body condition score
  • Feeding grass/hay with a quality hay balancer
  • Refraining from feeding “sweet” feeds or treats

Caring for the Insulin Resistant Horse

There is no cure for Insulin Resistance, but we can help make the life of these horses as comfortable as possible. The first step in this process is to examine the horse’s current diet and develop a feeding plan that will assist the horse in dropping excess weight. This new diet will be focused on reducing the number of sugars and carbs the horse consumes daily. This means no sweet feeds, limited treats, and no grasses with high fructan. Grasses likely to have high fructan content include:

  • Fertilized and growing pastures
  • Pastures stressed from drought or frosts
  • Grazing in the afternoon and evening
  • Tall fescue and ryegrass

Monitored grazing, dry lotting, and grazing muzzles may also be necessary depending on the horse and pasture.

Adding exercise to the horse’s daily routine is the next step. If the horse is not accustomed to exercise, it should be introduced slowly, 2-3 times a week, and built up over time. Eventually, we want the horse to exercise daily with body condition steadily improving.

Supplementation for Insulin Resistance

Supplementation is vital for horses with Insulin Resistance, especially when we begin cutting calories from the diet. We want to cut calories without cutting the horse’s required daily nutrients. If the horse’s diet is not balanced nutritionally, we are not providing the support needed to maintain our horse’s health.

As mentioned above, a quality hoof supplement is essential for insulin-resistant horses to help improve hoof wall density. A denser hoof wall is more resilient to the effects of laminitis and may reduce the risk of founder. One good option is to utilize a hay and pasture balancer alongside a hoof supplement to replace the missing nutrients from the low-calorie diet. Another option is to use a quality hoof supplement and a supplement specifically formulated to support horses with Insulin Resistance.

Life Data® Insulin R Formula and Farrier's Formula® Double Strength
Life Data® Insulin R Formula and Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength

Life Data® Recommendation

Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength and the new Life Data® Insulin R Formula work in conjunction to support horses with Insulin Resistance by supplying active ingredients to assist with glucose metabolism, fat metabolism, insulin action, and help reduce inflammation. Life Data® Insulin R Formula also supports proper metabolism to encourage weight control and general health.

Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health: PART 1

Equine Hoof and Joints

Have you ever considered the substantial influence the health of our horse’s hooves and joints have on one another? For example, can poor hoof quality negatively impact joint health? Can a joint injury add extra strain to the hoof? It is easy to look at our horse’s health from a narrow perspective, only considering the problem at hand. When it comes to the longevity and comfort of the horse, we need to look at the whole picture. The horse’s joints and hooves function together in its movement and balance. When one is afflicted, the other is often affected as well.

Effects from offloading, poor nutrition, hoof balance, terrain, and body condition accumulate over time, weakening the horse’s extremities and creating real problems in the horse’s locomotion. These influences become even more important for older horses, who are more susceptible to joint pain, arthritis, and hoof problems such as laminitis. In part one of this blog, we will discuss the impact that body condition and nutrition have on the health of the hooves and joints.

Overweight Body Condition

Obesity continues to be a growing problem in the horse community. Approximately 50% of the horse population in the United States is considered overweight. It is almost guaranteed that an obese horse will eventually develop hoof and/or joint problems. The additional weight increases the strain and pressure heaped onto the hooves and joints. The excess weight will also boost the risk of problems developing when combined with unbalanced hooves, frequent exposure to hard terrain, and offloading. In addition, most of these horses also do not receive enough exercise or balanced diets. This sedentary lifestyle does not provide the needed exercise to maintain joint strength and quality. Providing an imbalanced diet only adds to the problem. Nutrient and caloric excesses in the diet are typical in overweight horses and can have many consequences on the health of the hooves and joints. Common problems that can occur in obese horses are:

  • Laminitis
  • Hoof “pancaking”
  • Joint inflammation
  • Hoof Abscesses
  • Joint related injuries
  • White line separation
  • Arthritis
  • Poor hoof and joint quality
  • Sore joints
Horse with Body Condition Score of 8
Overweight Horse with a Body Condition Score of 8

Overweight Body Condition: What to Do?

The most impactful move horse owners can make to reduce their horse’s body weight is to return to the “basic diet” of the horse. Remove all complete feeds, sweet feeds, and treats from the horse’s diet. Utilize grass and hay as the cornerstone of your horse’s feeding program. We also recommend including a quality hay and pasture balancer, such as Barn Bag®, for nutritional support. This approach allows horse owners to control the number of calories their horses receive while still providing the essential nutrients the horse requires. Adding regular exercise to the horse’s daily regime is also extremely important. Start slow and allow the horse to build up to the new activities. The last thing you want to do is cause an injury by pushing your horse too hard and too fast.

Nutrition & Supplementation

The health and quality of your horse’s hooves and joints are reliant on proper nutrition and a balanced diet. In fact, poor hoof quality is one of the first signs of poor nutrition. The hooves, skin, hair coat, and ligaments supporting the joints are all made of connective tissue. If the hooves are impacted by poor nutrition, all other connective tissues of the horse will suffer, including the joints. Although nutrient imbalances can develop in any horse, overweight horses are highly susceptible to imbalances and the resulting hoof and joint issues.

Nutrient deficiencies and excesses in the diet will hinder the development of hoof and joint quality. One example is a deficiency in Vitamin A which creates a hoof wall defect where the hoof wall “flakes” away. Another perfect example is sulfur. A deficiency of sulfur-containing amino acids could lead to structural weakness of the ligaments, tendons, joints, and hooves. However, too much sulfur in the diet can have a negative effect on connective tissue strength. When hoof and joint quality are poorly affected by nutrition, we can expect:

  • Higher risks of thrush, white line disease, and microbial invasions
  • Hoof abscesses
  • Laminitis
  • Deteriorating joint health
  • Joint inflammation
  • Variations of poor hoof quality
  • Risks of injury
  • Hoof defects and deformities
  • Arthritis

Nutrition & Supplementation: What to Do?

Providing a balanced diet supported with essential nutrients will have one of the most significant impacts on your horse’s hooves and joints. Adding a quality hoof supplement to your horse’s feeding program will also benefit all dermal tissue of the horse, including the hoof and the connective tissue of the joint. A hoof supplement will build, improve, and support hoof quality to make it more resilient to many hoof problems.

Horse owners can also utilize a joint supplement to support joint health further. Although, feeding a hoof supplement with a separate joint supplement can have risks of sulfur over-supplementation. To avoid over-supplementing, utilizing a combo product to support hoof and joint health, such as Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint, is highly recommended. Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint is balanced to support the hoof and joint without the risk of over-supplementation. Starting horses on Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint from an early age is also a great preventive measure.

Hoof and Joint Supplement for Horses
Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint

Prevention Versus Treatment

Preventing a problem is always better than treating a problem. Protecting and building quality hooves and joints begins at conception. Waiting to tackle a problem until there is a problem can be time-consuming, costly, and have lasting effects on your horse’s health. The key to prevention and extending the longevity of your horse begins with:

Although nutrition and weight management are major factors in hoof and joint health, there are other factors that still need to be considered. In part 2 of “Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health,” we will dive further into this subject to discuss offloading, terrain, and unbalanced hooves. Contact us if you have any questions about this article or the supplements mentioned. Consult with your farrier and veterinarian immediately if you believe your horse has a hoof or joint problem.

Anhidrosis in Horses. What Can be Done?

Horse with Anhidrosis

What is Anhidrosis in Horses?

Anhidrosis in horses can be described as the inability or reduced capacity to sweat. Horses regulate their body temperature, much like we do, primarily through the evaporation of sweat. Anhidrosis can tremendously affect the horse’s ability to work, perform, and function. Without the full capacity to sweat, the horse is in danger of:

  • Overheating and having a heat stroke
  • Organ and muscle damage
  • Death

Is Your Horse at Risk?

The prevalence of anhidrosis in horses has been estimated to be between 2% to 6% of horses. All breeds, ages, sexes and coat colors are at risk. Interestingly, the birth and growth of a foal in a hot and humid climate does not reduce the risk of developing anhidrosis.

Due to varying degrees of sweating between affected horses, anhidrosis can be difficult to recognize by the horse owner or veterinarian. The incidence and potential severity of anhidrosis are higher in hot and humid climates, although anhidrosis can also be an issue in cooler dry areas. Chronic anhidrosis has been linked to atrophy of the sweat glands leading to a permanent loss of sweating ability.

Recognizing Equine Anhidrosis

Anhidrosis affects horses in different degrees, making recognizing and diagnosing the problem more difficult. For example, one horse may completely stop while other horses might only have a slight reduction in sweating capacity. Only certain body areas of the horse may sweat while others are dry – the horse may still sweat under the mane and under the saddle pad.

Brushing Horse Coat

Here are a few key symptoms of equine anhidrosis:

  • Heavy or labored breathing
  • Flared nostrils
  • Horse begins to pant with an open mouth
  • Body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Noticeable lack of sweat – other horses may be
    sweating profusely
  • Lack of energy
  • Refusal to work
  • Desire to seek and remain in the shade
  • Coat is dry to the touch
  • Dry or itchy skin (chronic anhidrosis)

What Causes Anhidrosis in Horses?

Unfortunately, the mechanisms are unknown, and research into the cause continues. Many researchers and veterinarians believe the cause is attributed to:

  • Genetics
    • A genetic condition has been implicated – research is currently in progress at the University of Florida Large Animal Hospital
    • Some horses may be born with a reduced number of functional sweat glands
  • Nutrition and Diet
    • Excesses and deficiencies of nutrients can affect the skin and hair coat. Many of these nutritional-related issues may also contribute to anhidrosis.  

Treating Equine Anhidrosis

If your horse is becoming overheated or exhausted, there are short-term steps you can immediately take to help cool down the body temperature:

  • Move horse to a shady area or ventilated stall
  • Use portable fans or air conditioning
  • Hose down horse with cold water
  • Provide plenty of cold water to drink

No cure has been discovered for anhidrosis. Products available on the market may help enhance the horse’s ability to sweat. Life Data® Sweat Formula contains active ingredients that have produced positive results in most horses with anhidrosis.

Life Data® Anhidrosis Research

Life Data Sweat Formula
Click on Image to Learn More About Life Data® Sweat Formula.

Life Data® Sweat Formula is a new product developed from several years of anhidrosis research at Life Data Labs, Inc. The in-house Life Data® research lab utilizes blood tests and a sophisticated software program to determine the relationship between blood work results and specific conditions in horses. Equipment in the lab analyzes macro and trace mineral content of whole blood in horses to discover any correlations between certain minerals and specific conditions. Through this current research, Life Data® has discovered several consistent correlations between blood test deficiencies and excesses within a group of horses diagnosed with anhidrosis.

Life Data® Sweat Formula

Life Data® used this research to develop an anhidrosis formula for non-sweating horses. This formula delivers a combination of essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to balance the deficiencies and excesses in the typical anhidrotic horse. The active ingredients will help improve skin and sweat gland condition to help regenerate the horse’s ability to sweat. For example, the fatty acids delivered in Life Data® Sweat Formula helps restore the lipids of the sweat gland membranes, which may help the transfer of fluids out of the sweat glands.

Depending on the individual horse the product may require daily administration for a period of several weeks prior to achieving the desired results.

If you believe your horse has anhidrosis it is important to consult with your veterinarian and regulate your horse’s activities. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at cservice@lifedatalabs.com or telephone at 256-370-7555.

Understanding the Horse’s Digestive System

Horse's Digestion System Blog Photo

Whether it is an animal, plant or other living organism, all living things must have a genetic code and chemical process to maintain life. All living organisms have nutrient requirements that are basically the same at the metabolic level. The difference is how these requirements are absorbed to provide nutrients and energy to live.

For example, plants can manufacture the nutrients and energy they need by staying in one place. They can do this by using the energy from sunlight, along with water, oxygen and nutrients from the soil. In essence, they are self-sufficient.  Unlike animal life, plants do not depend on other living things to survive except for the soil microbiome at their roots.

The Horse vs Other Mammals

Although horses belong to the same animal class as humans and other mammals, they are metabolically smarter than most other mammals. The nutrient requirements between horses and other mammals are the same at the metabolic level; however the horse’s ability to manufacture nutrients is far more advanced.

Humans, for example, must obtain most nutrients they need directly from what they consume. The food and nutrients are delivered to the digestive tract, broken down, and provided to the rest of the body. A horse’s digestion process is much more complex than this. This is in large part due to the hindgut (including cecum and large intestine) of the horse.

The Horse’s Digestion System

The cecum is a large organ within the digestive tract that houses microorganisms. These microorganisms break down the fiber and cellulose the horse consumes and converts the cellulose into additional nutrients and energy that the horse needs to survive. So unlike humans and other monogastric mammals which eat and drink to consume nutrients that are ultimately absorbed, horses not only eat and drink to absorb nutrients but also to feed the microorganism factory within their cecum.

To simplify this process, we can think of the cecum as a “garden” for the horse. This garden enables horses to be mobile in order to consume the nutrients they need. Horses fertilize the garden with the energy and nutrients needed to thrive by providing it with the cellulose of the plants consumed. The garden then produces the “fruits”, or additional nutrients, the horse requires.

The Wild Horse

Before the domestication of horses they were naturally roamers. They would roam, graze, and find the proper nutrition they needed to fully provide for the hindgut microorganisms. Today, we have restricted the horse’s ability to do this by enclosing them in pastures, paddocks, and barns. We have also increased their natural calorie needs by demanding more of them through riding, training, athletics, and work.

The Modern Horse

Modern feeding practices have altered the natural diet of the horse.  Many complete feeds contain excess fats and sugars (molasses), and are also fortified with additional nutrients. This “all-in-one” concept tethers calories and nutrients together; therefore hard keepers and working horses must consume large amounts of the fortified feed to maintain body weight.

This often results in over-supplementation of nutrients, and a diet too rich in fats and carbohydrates. On the other hand, easy keepers are often under-supplemented using this method of feeding. Also note that horses do not have gallbladders. Without a gallbladder the horse is unable to break down and digest the excess fat in many of the modern complete feeds, leading to diarrhea, gas and digestive upset.

Horses Must Chew

Chewing is instrumental to the horse’s digestion because the grinding serves two purposes, to grind the feed down to small particles and to generate salivation. In a horse, salivation is not initiated from smell or taste, but by the physical action of grinding the teeth. For proper digestion and utilization by the hindgut microbes the feedstuffs must be properly chewed and ground down into fine particles.

For the horse to achieve suitable grinding dental health must be maintained with proper floating. “Over floating” the teeth will inhibit the horse’s ability to grind. The teeth must have rough opposing surfaces for the horse to be capable of proper grinding – if the teeth are too smooth it would be like trying to grind feedstuffs between two pieces of glass.

The horse’s salivation is also important because it coats and moisturizes the food particles in digestive enzymes to kick start the digestive process and help deliver the particles to the GI tract. Most compound and textured feeds that we are using to replace the natural diet of the horse are “pre-chewed”, meaning that the feed has been ground already. The reduced chewing time restricts the amount of salivation, thus interfering with and bypassing an important part of the horse’s digestion.

Horse Eating

Proper Care for the “Garden”

If you do not properly care and provide for your garden at home it will not produce healthy fruit, but only weeds and grass. The same goes for your horse. If you do not feed your horse naturally, the garden within your horse will not provide the proper nutrition your horse needs. This can create health issues for your horse.

But, like your garden at home, these weeds can be picked. It is never too late to provide your horse with a natural diet. Remove the fatty foods, the complete feeds, and provide your horse with the diet nature intended it to have. Natural grazing and feeding hay will provide the horse with most of the calories and nutrients the horse needs. Any additional calories needed to maintain body condition should be separated from any additional nutrient intake.

If additional calories are needed, oats, beet pulp, or copra can be fed to meet these increased demands. Proper supplementation with a hay and pasture balancer is also important to replace the nutrients the horse may not be finding in the modern restrained lifestyle. If you have any questions regarding your horse’s diet contact your veterinarian or feel free to contact us at 1-800-624-1873.

Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS

Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS

Life Data Labs, Inc.

Makers of Farrier’s Formula® and Barn Bag® Pasture and Hay Balancer

www.lifedatalabs.com

Does My Horse Need A Joint Supplement?

Farrier Supporting Horse's JointSome of you may already be asking yourself the question, “Should I be providing my horse a joint supplement or formula ?” Maybe you’re noticing that your once energetic horse is slowing down and seems to be stiff and not as nimble. Perhaps your award-winning steed is now taking longer to recover after a competition or a long ride. Maybe your horse is young and thriving and you want to prolong its life and career.

We all want to see our horses live a long, healthy, and enjoyable life, but can a joint supplement really make a difference? Would your horse benefit from receiving this form of joint support?

What is a Joint Problem?

Before we go on any further, we first need to establish what is a joint problem. To make the joint work, it takes the collaboration of tendons, cartilage, bone, soft tissue, and fluid. Any number of these working parts can develop problems and create discomfort in the joint. Some of you may not consider a joint problem an issue until it’s just that – an issue, but a joint problem begins at the first signs of discomfort in the joint. If you ignore the first signs of a problem, it will likely bring more discomfort and develop more issues for you and your horse. If you pay close attention, you can catch the signs of joint discomfort before it develops into something worse or creates irreversible damage.

Does Your Horse Have a Joint Problem?

So, how do we know a problem is there? As the horse owner, you will spend more time with your horse than anyone. You are familiar with your horse’s personality, habits, the way it walks, and so on. You are the first person in a line of checks and balances concerning the health and well being of your horse. Watch the way your horse walks and runs. Keep an eye out for any changes to it’s gate or any initial signs of discomfort. 

These signs of discomfort can especially be seen when you pick up the foot to clean and pick the hoof. Also discuss your horse’s health with your farrier. If you’re regularly maintaining your horse’s hooves, your farrier will be working with your horse’s feet and legs on a regular basis. Your farrier will see the signs of discomfort in the joints as they watch your horse walk or pick up the foot to work on the hoof. Your veterinarian can also assist you in determining if there is an actual problem.Horse Jumping

Preventing Joint Issues and Injuries

It is also important to note that it is much easier to prevent a joint issue than to try and fix one. Prevention is all about protecting the joint before a problem can develop and extending the life and durability of your horse’s joints. Prevention is especially important for horse owners that are regularly using their horse for competition or for work. Competing with your horse in the form of racing, jumping, dressage, three-day eventing, reining, roping, barrel racing, or other athletic competitions and training will regularly apply stress to the joints of your horse. These horses are at the highest risk of developing joint issues or suffering from a joint injury.

Just think of a human athlete. How many NBA, MLB, or NFL stars have we seen fall early in their careers due to an injury involving a joint? Today, these stars are taking precautions to extend the life of their careers. Eating healthier, stretching, taking supplements and staying in shape. It is an investment for them to prolong the life of their careers. We can do the same thing for our athletic horse and extend the life of their athletic careers through their diets, training, and supplementation.

Providing a joint formula like Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint will deliver the ingredients important for the health of the joints and will make the joints more flexible and less prone to injury. These ingredients will also help your horse recover more quickly after a competition and compete at its peak performance. By providing a joint formula early you’re not only preventing future problems but investing in the longevity of your horse.

Joint Supplement for Horses

Supplementing will also help relieve discomfort and pain for a horse that has already developed joint issues. If you have an athletic horse that developed an injury during competition or training, the ingredients in a joint formula will help rebuild and strengthen the connective tissue within the joint. Providing a joint supplement or formula will also support relief to the problem areas, allowing your horse to regain movement that was once too painful to make. This is especially important for the older horse who may be arthritic or have problems due to the build up of past injuries. This will prolong the longevity of your horse, strengthen the joints, and help prevent issues from worsening.

Factors that affect horse joints

You may not be jumping hurdles or taking your horse on week long rides, but it doesn’t mean problems can’t occur. Providing a joint supplement or formula is never a bad idea, especially if you are seeking to extend your horse’s ability to work and compete or wish to address issues developed from injury or age. If you are looking for joint support, we recommend Farrier’s Formula DS Plus Joint.

Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint strengthens the connective tissues of the joints, tendons and ligaments and contains ingredients to promote lubrication of the joints. The inclusion of proline, ornithine, and manganese provide targeted joint support. This product contains the sulfur needed for joint health in the form of the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint also provides ingredients important for hoof growth and joint repair without the concern of over supplementation that could occur from feeding a separate hoof and joint supplement. If you have any questions on Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint, proper supplementation, or on joint health please call us at 1-800-624-1873.

Joint Supplement for Horses