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Equine Metabolic Disorders and Chronic Inflammation

What is chronic inflammation in horses?

Despite the negative connotations, “inflammation” is not a bad word. Some inflammation in the body is actually a good thing — it helps wounds heal, plays a role in illness recovery and more. Problems arise when the inflammatory response becomes chronic, resulting in low-grade, body-wide inflammation.

While your horse’s DNA was predetermined at birth by its sire and dam, science continues to discover that how those genes are expressed can be largely determined by an animal’s nutrition and environment. In other words, genes can be up- or down-regulated through diet, exercise and more.

Why should I care about inflammation in horses?

We now know that chronic inflammation is at the root of virtually every disease that affects humans. In horses, chronic inflammation has been associated with diseases such as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (Cushing’s disease), equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome and laminitis. Fortunately, many of these diseases are preventable through proper diet and exercise protocols.

What does inflammation have to do with my horse’s genetics?

Conditions like equine metabolic syndrome, polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease (DJD), developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) and even some forms of recurring tying-up episodes have genetic components, but a major underlying cause for all of them is chronic inflammation.

How can you help prevent endocrine disruption?

While a horse’s genetic makeup cannot be changed, you can help support the expression of those genes through proactive management practices. High-quality nutrition is incredibly important, especially when it comes to the correct amounts and forms of trace minerals, which play a direct role in musculoskeletal support.

Alltech is a leader in the field of nutrigenomics research, which explores how nutrition impacts gene expression.

Signs of metabolic disorders and chronic inflammation in horses:

  • Extreme stiffness and discomfort
  • Quick growth rates
  • Weight gain
  • Body condition score > 6
  • Dull hair coat
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in behavior and attitude
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Heat intolerance
  • Hoof problems

How to help prevent metabolic disorders and chronic inflammation in horses

In short, preventing metabolic disorders and chronic inflammation in horses involves amplifying “good genes.”

Outlined below are a few tips to support your horse’s overall quality of life, no matter their genetic predisposition:

  • Prioritize exercise. Horses evolved as the ultimate “free-range” animal, roaming many miles per day. While this lifestyle may not be realistic for most modern equine living situations, it is important that your horse gets adequate exercise each day, whether through daily turnout or a regular training program. Movement promotes proper bone remodeling and connective tissue strength, improves circulation and blood flow and helps with weight maintenance.
  • Beware of overfeeding. Obesity contributes to chronic inflammation, which is a major contributor to disease development. A great deal of chronic inflammation is linked to excess feeding, particularly of starches and sugars. Overconsumption of glucose can easily lead your horse down the path of developing insulin resistance and equine metabolic syndrome. Keep your horse at a heathy weight and body condition score, ideally between 4 and 6.
  • Choose quality nutrition. Feeds containing anti-inflammatory fats, like omega-3s, will assist in physiological responses to stress. If more calories are required, focus on fats rather than carbohydrates, which are more disruptive to the GI tract.
  • Provide regular veterinary care. It is important for your veterinarian to complete a routine (annual or semi-annual) evaluation of your horse, especially if the horse is a senior citizen, as their body systems become less efficient and less capable of regeneration as they age.
  • Reduce stress. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to stress. Make sure that your horse has adequate access to hay, fresh water, shelter and companionship. Make changes to the diet slowly.