How to Treat Free Fecal Water

Do you have a horse that has water that runs out of the anus before, during or after he poos?

This condition now has a name! Free Fecal Water, or FFW. And also, happily it now has some research behind what may cause it as well as a potential treatment.

If it is something you struggle with, read on!

There were multiple presentations on free fecal water at the EEHNC conference. Here is a summary of the main points:

FFW is a condition in which horses produce normal feces, but before, during or after defecation, free water runs out of the anus.

There appears to be no effect on general health associated with the condition, but it can cause skin irritation and it becomes a management (and appearance) issue for you as the owner.

Causes can include abrupt changes in forages, a change from hay to haylage and use of large amounts of high-moisture wrapped forages. Horses that have suffered previous bouts of colitis, geldings and paint horses are at higher risk. The association for geldings and paints is thought to be due to their position in social hierarchy and higher levels of stress.

Dental health and parasitic infections/fecal egg counts have not been found to be related.

There may be some sort of motility disturbance, with either increased gut motility or abnormally strong gut contractions, and inflammation of the gut involved, all reducing the hindguts ability to absorb water.

It was recommended that management of free fecal water focuses around proper ration formulation to provide a balanced diet using ingredients that will support a healthy gut environment (we of course recommend FeedXL to help with this), as well as good feeding management to provide regular small meals and constant access to forage. It was also recommended to keep starch at a maximum of 1 g/kg bodyweight per meal.

You should also pay attention to the type of forage and fibre being fed, being sure to incorporate fibres that have good water holding capacity. Grass forages for example will hold more water toward the end of the hindgut than alfalfa/lucerne forage or a superfibre like beetpulp will hold.

The final point discussed was potential treatment using a fecal transplant from a healthy horse. In a study with 14 horses with free fecal water, all showed improvement 3 days after being treated via fecal transplant and 2 months after treatment, 7 of the 14 horses had had no re-occurrence of the condition. (Theelen, unpublished). Laustsen et al (2018) reported a second study in which 10 horses with FFW were treated using fecal transplant (or fecal microbiome transplant, FMT). Within a week of treatment their free fecal water score dropped in severity and remained low for the entire 12 month study, supporting the use of fecal transplant for treatment of these horses.

The researchers were careful to point out that all other possible causes of this condition must be ruled out prior to treatment via fecal transplant. They suggested radiographing the abdomen to look for sand, a full rectal exam, testing for parasites, ruling out irritable bowel disease and scoping for gastric ulcers.

The method for the fecal transplant treatment given was as follows:

  1. Place horse on omeprazole (full treatment dose) for a couple of days prior to fecal transplant (this will just cut the acid production in the stomach and make it more likely that the bacteria will make it through alive). GREAT IDEA!!
  2. Take 500 grams of fresh feces from a suitable donor (one who is on a high forage diet with a healthy hindgut and parasite free).
  3. Mix the feces in 2 litres of luke warm water, sieve to remove large particles and then add 100 grams of grass or other fibre only pellets (make sure they are grain free with a very low starch and sugar content). Other options would be alfalfa, soybean hull, beet fibre or lupin hull pellets.
  4. Administer via gastric intubation (this is a veterinary procedure and must be carried out by your veterinarian).

If you try this treatment on your horse we would love to know the outcome! I have had much success over the years using fecal transplant in horses with chronic diarrhea, but don’t have experience using it with these free fecal water horses. And the omeprazole step is a brilliant idea, I’d always worried about the poor bacteria getting through the highly acidic stomach, so makes perfect sense to make the stomach environment a little friendlier for them and I imagine it will only serve to improve the effectiveness of the treatment.

Reference: Mathijs et al (2019) Free Faecal Water: What do we know and can equine faecal microbiota transplantation be used to manage this issue? European Equine Health and Nutrition Congress, Utrecht, The Netherland

Questions? Comments?

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

What You Should Know About Anaerobic Fungi

Anaerobic Fungi! These little critters live in our horses’ hindguts! And they are responsible for an estimated 30 to 40% of the fibre fermentation that occurs in there! So as well as thinking about how diet might affect our horse’s hindgut bacterial populations we also need to think about how it might affect their anaerobic fungal populations!

Problem is, we know so little about them that we don’t know what is good and what is not so good for them. Information on what we know so far was presented at EEHNC by the incredibly passionate researcher Dr Joan Edwards. Joan described the fungi as having potent fibre degrading enzymes, giving them an important role in a horse’s digestion process.

The fungi can survive outside the horse’s gut too, and are seemingly resistant to both oxygen (which kills many anaerobic bacteria that live in the hindgut) and desiccation (drying out). This makes me wonder if they are part of the reason why my horses will seek out specific dry manure piles and eat them on occasion… maybe?!

Anyway, there is some research published (e.g. https://www.researchgate.net/…/329954798_Anaerobic_fungal_c…)

And more research to come (https://www.wur.nl/en/project/Equine-Anaerobic-Fungi.htm)… so watch this space as we keep learning more.

In the meantime while we figure out how to look after these fungi, I suspect feeding in the way that will look after the bacteria in a horse’s hindgut will also look after the fungi… so keep your horse’s diet high in low fructan forage, keep grain/starch out of the hindgut by feeding only well-cooked grains where necessary and in as small meals as possible and make changes to the diet slowly.

I love info like this as it is exciting to know we are always understanding horses better. Part of me though is thinking great, yet another thing we have to think about! 😂

Questions? Comments?

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Iron: Is There a Link to Laminitis?

Dietary iron is thought by some to contribute to the incidence of laminitis in horses, with serum ferritin starting to be used as the measure of iron status.

I (Nerida) don’t know if this is the case, but in reading human literature, it seems the relationship between serum ferritin and inflammation is a bit of a case of chicken or the egg. Lots of information shows serum ferritin is elevated in humans with inflammatory disease and/or metabolic syndrome, but it is not clear what happened first; did serum ferritin rise and cause inflammation, or did inflammation and cell damage occur and cause elevated serum ferritin?

So I thought a good place to start is with a link for you to a review on serum ferritin. This article tells us that serum ferritin is actually a little protein ball, with a hollow centre (my words) where it keeps iron. Depending on how much iron is available in the body, the amount of iron inside the ferritin can vary a lot.

When serum ferritin is measured, it is the protein that is being measured, not the iron. So a serum ferritin measure tells you how many little protein balls are there but not how much iron they actually contain.

The other interesting thing to note is that ferritin is made within cells and is not made in the blood. So it seems that for ferritin to get into the blood it has to come out of the body’s cells (with very limited evidence if any, according to these authors, of any regulated ferritin secretion mechanism in mammals). This leads to the hypothesis that the elevated serum ferritin seen during inflammation is due to leakage from damaged cells into the blood.

The paper goes on to talk about the relationship between serum ferritin and liver iron stores, which are considered the gold standard for assessing body iron stores. While serum ferritin is usually related to liver iron in ‘normal humans’ that don’t have inflammatory disease, serum ferritin can both under and over-estimate liver iron stores where some form of inflammatory disease is at play.

Meaning it is not necessarily a good indicator of overall iron status. These authors suggest serum (‘soluble’) transferrin receptor (sTfR) as being much more useful.

Anyway, there is a lot to take in and I have only had one read over and would need to read it many times to fully appreciate all of the content. The simple point I want you to take away is that serum ferritin is not necessarily an indicator of iron overload from high dietary iron and may instead be an indicator of inflammation. Maybe the chicken came first… or was it the egg??

I’ll keep reviewing papers over the next several months! 

Here’s a direct link to the article mentioned above: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2014/MT/C3MT00347G

 

Questions? Comments?

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Grazing Muzzles

I personally love grazing muzzles. A muzzle means my horses can be out grazing 23+ hours per day. Without them they would be strip grazed (trashing my natives pastures in the process) or locked up for extended periods, which for gut and mental health is not ideal either.

But they come with their challenges. They can rub if they don’t fit properly. If you don’t have one your horse is OK with they can create behavioral issues (rearing while trying to put them on or being impossible to catch to put them on) and I find certain brands can be too hot to wear in hot climates.

And of course there is always that unknown of how long you should leave one on for your particular muzzle+horse+pasture combination (which if you are like me causes a bit of angst for a while until you get it figured out!).

The other thing you need to be really aware of is how they limit normal behavior. My horses love to groom one another, but with muzzles on all the time they can’t do this. So I have to consciously make time to let them have muzzle free time together so they can do some mutual grooming.

Just something to keep in mind for those of you with muzzled horses.

Questions? Comments?

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Too Much Salt Might Be Killing Gut Bacteria

The last two weeks has seen extreme weather conditions for us in my local area in Australia. In the last 14 days, 7 days have been 40 degrees celsius or higher (104 F +) and of the other 7 days only one was below 37 degrees C (99 F). To make things worse, the nights will not cool down, with most nights remaining over 20 degrees C (68 F) and a couple of nights being 26 + degrees C (79 F). On more than one occasion I have checked temperatures between midnight and 3 am and it has been 30 degrees or more in the middle of the night! It is HOT!!!

My horses are crusted in salt from continuous sweating. I took pity on them today and instead of having them out grazing with muzzles on they have hay in their hay pillows so they can at least stay in the shade.

But back to salt. I normally just let my horses eat salt free choice. Their balancer pellet gives them about 5 grams of salt per day and the rest of what they need they eat as loose rock salt.

BUT, the last couple of weeks I have been adding it to their feeds so I know they are getting enough to keep sweating. If horses run low on sodium or chloride they can’t sweat, and that, in these conditions is life-threateningly dangerous.

There is a trend at the moment though for people to add large amounts of salt to their horse’s daily feeds, despite actual requirements or what may be coming from the rest of their diet. Blanket recommendations like ‘add 10 grams of salt per 100 kg of bodyweight’ seem to be commonplace, yet don’t seem to take into account a horse’s specific situation.

Take Poet’s diet for example, shown in the graph below. If I add 10 g/100 kg of BW to his diet his sodium intake is well over 200% of what he needs. In these extreme conditions this may well be accurate, but once it cools off a little this is way more sodium than he needs.

While I was out just now giving them hay I had the thought ‘I wonder what this excessive salt might be doing to the bacteria in their gut’?? Salt is, after all one of the best known and most widely used anti-bacterial agents in the world.

So I did a little research… and while not much came up, there is a recent paper, published in ‘Nature’ (i.e. one of the most reputable journals in the world, so we can trust it) showing that in both mice and men adding more salt than normal to a diet affected the gut bacterial populations, in some cases it entirely wiped out certain strains of bacteria! Eek!

What is really interesting (from a human perspective) is that the researchers were then able to link those shifts in gut bacteria to high blood pressure, which may help to explain (the as yet poorly understood) link between high salt diets and hypertension.

Back to your horses though… feeding excessive salt is unlikely to have any benefit and may be negatively affecting the good bacteria in your horse’s gut. So when using FeedXL, just meet your horse’s requirement for sodium with salt that is added to the diet. Then leave free choice salt (preferably as easy to eat loose rock salt) out so they can top up any extra requirement they may have.

The paper is here if anyone would like to read it in more detail: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature24628

Questions? Comments?

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Iron for Horses: Could Forage Be Enough?

Comparison of equine dietary iron requirements to iron concentrations of 5,837 hay samples

N. Richards and B.D. Nielsen, 2018

Introduction

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. According to the 2007 Horse NRC, Fe requirements are 50 ppm for growing foals, lactating and pregnant mares, and 40 ppm for all other classes of horses. The 2005 NRC suggested a maximum tolerable Fe concentration of 500 ppm using data from other species. It is claimed that excess dietary Fe is causative of horses becoming insulin resistant.

Athletic horses, and particularly those in Thoroughbred racing, are often supplemented with Fe in an attempt to improve performance. Supplementation is commonly carried out without any formal analysis of the diet to determine if additional iron is required. Forages are typically high in iron and supply a majority of iron in all equine diets.

This study looks at the iron concentration in forages typically fed to equines and whether iron from forage is enough to meet the iron requirement of an athletic horse.

Methods

Nutrient concentrations from hay samples submitted for analysis in 2017 and for which Fe was measured were obtained from Equi-Analytical, representing 3,060 grass, 1,193 legume, and 1,584 mixed hay samples.

Iron concentration was measured using inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP). Analysis methodology is available from dairyone.com. Statistical analysis was performed using Proc MEANS of SAS.

Results

Iron was highest in Legume and Mixed Mainly Legume Hays and lowest in Grass Hay (Table 1). All hay types had a mean iron concentration more than five times that required by athletic horses and a median iron concentration more than three times.

From all hay samples (n = 5,837), 707 contained Fe at or above the suggested tolerable threshold of 500 ppm, while only 81 contained Fe at less than 50 ppm. Further, only 15 contained Fe at less than 40 ppm.

Discussion

A 500 kg horse in heavy work has an iron requirement of 500 mg/day (NRC 2007; based on a daily feed intake of 2.5% bodyweight and a requirement of 40 ppm). Forage intake is often restricted by Thoroughbred trainers. But even when fed at 1% of bodyweight to a 500 kg horse, these hays will supply an average 1,060 mg to 2,230 mg of iron per day, supplying more than 200% of daily iron requirements in the forage component of the diet alone.

Fortified grain concentrates are fed at an average 2.5 kg/horse per day in Australian Thoroughbred racing stables (Richards 2003). These concentrates have an average iron concentration of 190 ppm (FeedXL.com), adding an additional 475 mg/day of iron to the diet of these horses. Almost 60% of Australian Thoroughbred trainers then add an iron supplement to their horses’ diets (Richards 2003). It is expected similar trends would be found in the USA.

Based on this broad diet analysis, forage is able to meet the daily iron requirement of athletic horses. When iron from fortified feeds and supplements is added, there would be few racehorses receiving less than 300% of their daily iron requirement. It’s not unexpected that many horses would be receiving in excess of 500% of their daily iron requirement

What About Insulin Resistance

Given the dearth of Thoroughbred racehorses that are insulin resistant, despite Fe supplementation in combination with diets that can easily supply amounts beyond requirements, it seems unlikely excess Fe causes insulin resistance. However, it is recognized insulin resistant horses may have elevated serum ferritin.

References

Council NR. Nutrient Requirements of Horses: Sixth Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.

Richards N, Hinch G, Rowe J. The effect of current grain feeding practices on hindgut starch fermentation and acidosis in the Australian racing Thoroughbred. Aust Vet J 2006;84:402-407.

FeedXL Nutrition Software, https://feedxl.com/, 2018.

HUGE THANKS to Equi-Analytical for providing the data to write this paper, which was presented as a poster at the recent International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology (ICEEP).

Questions? Comments?

Click here to join the conversation on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Sunbleaching or Sweat?

I think it must be a combination of both! Poet and I did an unintentional experiment over our Christmas break that seems to show that the sunbleaching that occurs in some horses over summer is a combination of sun and sweat.

Where we live flies can get bad, so my horses have flymasks on during daylight hours. It has been hot (like seriously hot… 40 degrees celcius/100 F plus) so they sweat a fair bit behind their ears where the strap for the masks sit.

Check out the bleaching pattern though on Poet who is liver chestnut and bleaches out in patches every summer… he has bleached severely where he has sweated around the mask strap, BUT under the strap, where it wasn’t exposed to any sunlight, he has maintained his coat color. Funky huh!!

 

Looking at him this morning he is bleached badly around his flanks and on his shoulder where he sweats the most too. So sweat + sun + a certain color and coated horse = bleaching, even when the diet is well and truly adequate for copper and zinc (thanks to FeedXL and pasture analysis I know this).

It’s interesting to note that Popcorn, who has an entirely different coat both in colour, length, thickness and even feel doesn’t bleach anywhere, ever. So specific coats seem to bleach a lot more than others. And our climate obviously contributes significantly too!

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Setaria Grass and Bighead: What You Need to Know

Setaria should really be classified as toxic for horses. It is a subtropical pasture with such high levels of oxalate that it makes it almost impossible to prevent Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism (Bighead disease) in horses grazing this grass.

Grasses like kikuyu and buffel grass readily cause bighead disease with an oxalate content of around 15 g/kg. Setaria contains anywhere between 30 and 80 grams of oxalate per kg of (90% dry matter) pasture… which translates to HUGE amounts of calcium being needed to balance the calcium to oxalate ratio to prevent bighead.

I have seen horses go from normal to severely affected in a matter of months on setaria. So if you have setaria in your pasture you need to be very aware of what you are feeding and how well this is meeting calcium (as well as phosphorus and magnesium) requirements.

FeedXL will help you in calculating the calcium to oxalate, calcium to phosphorus and calcium to magnesium ratios to keep your horse healthy. BUT, the first step is identifying that you have this grass in the first place so you know you need to be on your game with managing nutrition!

I took the following photos of setaria on the NSW mid-north coast… setaria was everywhere! Please take a look at the photos and then in your paddocks to see if you have setaria. And if you do, please do something sooner than later to prevent severe and often life-threatening calcium deficiency.

There is more information on Bighead here too if you need it at https://feedxl.com/25-bighead/

Questions? Comments?

Click here to see this post on our Facebook Page

 

 

Teff Hay vs Rhodes Grass Hay

Teff Hay seems to have suddenly appeared as a hay option for many horse owners and because it is sold as a low starch low sugar hay it is starting to be recommended in place of Rhodes Grass Hay.

BUT, if you are lucky enough to have access to Rhodes Grass Hay, I wouldn’t be eager to swap. Here is why:

1. Rhodes Grass Hay is low in oxalate, containing approximately 2.5 to 3 g/kg of oxalate.

Teff Hay is moderate to high in oxalate at 10 to 12 g/kg. This means Teff needs careful supplementation of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium to prevent it from causing Bighead Disease. With Rhodes being so low in oxalate Bighead is not an issue (though you do still need to make sure you correctly balance the diet for minerals and vitamins as forages rarely contain enough to meet a horse’s requirement).

2. Rhodes Grass Hay is more reliable and consistent when it comes to the low starch, low sugar characteristic.

From the analyses we have seen coming through here at FeedXL Teff can be high in starch, with one analysis sent through showing an as-fed starch content of 7.1% and total NSC of of 13.7% which for a laminitic horse is going to be too high. While soaking would more than likely bring this non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) level back down to safe levels it makes for much more time consuming feeding… so if you have access to Rhodes Grass it would be much easier to use this.

3. Teff Hay causes some odd behavioural issues in some horses and this is normally associated with an alkaline fecal pH.

We have no way of explaining this, and it doesn’t happen with all horses on Teff so I don’t know if all Teff Hay is the same or if there is a certain variety that causes this issue.

So while Teff gives people in cooler climates a low NSC option which is welcome, it is not yet well understood and not without its issues. If I had a choice between Teff and Rhodes I would go with Rhodes Hay every time.

Click here to see this post on the FeedXL Facebook Page

Copper & Coat Color

We often talk about copper deficiency in horses, and specifically its role in coat color. Copper is part of an enzyme called tyrosinase which is essential for the production of melanin. Melanin is what gives the skin, hair and eyes their color.

So it makes sense that copper deficiency would cause a change in coat color! If an animal doesn’t have enough copper, they don’t make enough melanin and if they don’t have enough melanin they can’t color their coat.

Hereford cattle are my ‘copper deficiency canaries’… their coat color fades quite quickly when they become copper deficient. So they show me areas around the country that are low in copper (which is almost everywhere). Where herefords should normally be a rich liver red color, copper deficient herefords become a burnt orange color.

The ones shown in the photo here are on a farm not far from where I live. Having been in drought conditions for well over a year now they are likely deficient in almost everything, but certainly the copper deficiency is showing in their coats!

Copper deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies I see in equine diets. And unfortunately copper deficiency affects many things including hoof and joint health in all horses, increased susceptibility to uterine artery rupture in foaling mares and higher incidence of OCD joint lesions in young horses. Really recommend using FeedXL to check your horse’s copper intake.

Not yet a FeedXL member? Click here to check out our Plans & Pricing