Vet Talk: Managing the Metabolic Horse

Vet Talk: Managing the Metabolic Horse

As a veterinarian AND a certified farrier, Dr. Vern Dryden is one of the most sought after horse health experts in the country. We caught up with Dr. Dryden to discuss how horse owners can successfully manage horses with metabolic issues. 

Q: What are some of your recommendations for a horse that may be metabolic or prone to metabolic issues?

Dr. Vern: I would say getting your horse tested is by far the most important thing. And identifying those horses that are at risk. Once you’ve identified them--with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, with insulin dysregulation, and/or Cushing's--then we can make a plan as to what needs to be done. This includes diet, exercise, and medical management. Medical management refers to treatments with metformin or pergolide. Those are things we have to consider.

Once we have identified these horses, lowering their sugar content--nonstructural carbohydrates--is key. We want to be sure we don’t put them on pasture that is in bloom. So a lush green pasture in spring is definitely not ok for these horses. They need to be in a muzzle or completely off pasture when it is blooming, and in fall.

As grasses change with the seasons, the sugar content goes up. Also when it is cooler, the sugar content goes up. As the sun goes up and nears mid-day, the sugar content is at the lowest. That gives you an idea of how to manage your horse on pasture. We also recommend that these horses do not receive a large amount--or any depending on the severity of the case--of grains. Grains are high in nonstructural carbohydrates. We want to be very careful. We actually recommend giving these horses a ration balancer along with their hay. A ration balancer is going to give the horse the nutrition they need without the calories and sugar that you’d get from a grain.

We also have to consider the hay. It needs to be tested for sugar content. If you don’t test it, a simple thing to do is just soak the hay. I recommend soaking it for at least 30 minutes prior to giving the hay to the horse. A simple way to do this is to put the hay in a hay net and put the hay net in a muck tub. Fill it up with water and let it sit for 30 minutes or longer. The sugars will leach out of the hay and into the water. Then, you raise the hay net out of the water and let the rest of the water drain out. After that it is ready to give to your horse. It is a very simple, easy, and effective way of reducing sugar in your hay. 

Q: What else can horse owners do from a nutritional standpoint?

Dr. Vern: One of the products I use routinely on almost all of my cases that have Metabolic disorders is Metabarol from Equithrive. It does a great job of allowing horses to utilize insulin and then facilitate glucose placement after they have ingested glucose so that it doesn’t turn into fat and they don’t harbor it. It does help with maintaining a leaner horse by removing some of the fat depositions from the neck and tail head. I use it on all my horses that are metabolic. 

Q: As far as podiatry and shoeing, do you recommend bringing in an expert for these horses?

Dr. Vern: You need to get with your vet first and foremost. Once you’ve made a diagnosis, if there are any laminitis issues, radiographic changes, or acutely laminitic, your vet will direct you about what the next step needs to be. He or she can make a plan with the farrier if needed. If you need a specialist, by all means, that is appropriate. But your first step is identifying the horse as a risk, then your vet can see if the horse is laminitic or has a history, and take some radiographs to see what the alignment and sole depth looks like. Then you can make a plan for treatment past that.

Vern Dryden DVM

Vernon Dryden, DVM, CJF is the President of Bur Oak Veterinary & Podiatry Services based in Lexington, KY and Wellington, FL. An Arizona native, Dr. Dryden is a graduate of Oklahoma State Farrier School, and Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

All content is for informational purposes only. Consult with a veterinarian or equine practitioner regarding the health and wellness of your animals. 


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