Vets seeing more horses with nutritional issues this year

COLUMBIA, Mo. While much of the Midwest has recovered from the drought that parched the area last year, horses are continuing to experience effects from the hot dry summer of 2006. Due to a bad hay crop, University of Missouri-Columbia veterinarians are reporting an increased number of horses with chronic selenosis and vitamin E deficiency, problems that can be fatal.

Last years drought meant that Missouris hay crop, which is usually balanced very well for a horses nutrition, was much poorer than usual, said Philip Johnson, professor of veterinary medicine and surgery. Because of the poor Missouri hay crop, horse owners imported hay from other states nearby and possibly fed their horses hay that was too high in selenium. This can have very grave consequences for horses. Owners also may have fed their horses poor quality hay from Missouri or other places, which led to deficiencies in vitamin E, another very dangerous problem for horses.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element and is an essential part of horse diets. However, too much or too little can create problems for a horse. When chronic selenosis, or selenium poisoning, occurs from eating too much of the element, horses can lose the hair in the mane and tail and develop a form of laminitis, a painful condition that affects the hoof. If left untreated for too long, a horse with chronic selenosis may require euthanasia as a result of severe laminitis.

Johnson said that the amount of selenium in hay can vary by county throughout the nation, but that Missouri hay typically has just the right amount of the essential element. For a small fee, horse owners can have their hay tested to determine if it has the right amount of selenium in it.

In addition, hay that is not fresh can lack vitamin E, an antioxidant which is important for nerve health in a horse. Some horse owners unknowingly compensate for this deficiency by feeding their animals with nutritional supplements. Th

Contact: Christian Basi
University of Missouri-Columbia

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