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What to Feed Metabolically Challenged Horses

What to Feed Metabolically Challenged Horses

Like people, horses have daily nutritional requirements for healthy maintenance and performance. However, sometimes horses face metabolic issues that impact their ability to digest or effectively use the nutrients in their feed.

When a horse develops a metabolic issue it can greatly impact their performance and overall health. While there are many factors influencing metabolic issues, sound nutrition and the right feed can greatly impact the overall health of these horses.

Metabolically Challenged Horses

Horses with metabolic challenges suffer from a number of different health issues including insulin resistance. All metabolic issues are related to shortcomings in the metabolic processes that are responsible for use and digestion of nutrients in the feed.

Insulin Resistance in Horses

Horses with insulin resistance have a decreased sensitivity to the hormone insulin that is responsible for transporting sugar through the blood to body tissues. Because the horse’s body does not respond normally to insulin, decreased sugars in the body results in lowered energy and impacts on vital physiological functions. Horses with insulin resistance will typically have high levels of insulin in the blood as an attempt to compensate for the body’s decreased sensitivity to the hormone. This metabolic issue can lead to other health problems such as inflammation and laminitis.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)

EMS is a metabolic issue associated with a horse’s inability to regulate blood insulin levels. Horses with EMS are often considered obese with abnormal fat distributions on the tail head, neck or behind the shoulder. These horses are also predisposed to laminitis and other hoof issues as well as insulin resistance.


Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM)

Horses with PSSM suffer from abnormal storage of sugars in the muscles. PSSM happens when there is dysfunction of the enzyme responsible for glycogen synthesis. It can result in poor performance and athleticism of the horse and can even become life threatening in some cases.

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What to Feed Horses with Metabolic Issues

Careful nutritional consideration is vital to caring for horses with metabolic issues. Because nutrition is so closely connected to metabolic function, horses with challenges require adaptations to their diet for better health, performance and quality of life.

Low Starch and Low Sugar Feeds

Horses with metabolic issues are often sensitive to starches and sugars in their diet as these tend to aggravate their condition. When feeding a horse with metabolic issues, it is important to avoid feeds and supplements that are high in starch and sugars such as grain-based feeds and those with molasses. 

Balanced Supplements

Because horses with metabolic issues are often negatively affected by high-energy feeds, it can be difficult to ensure the animals are still receiving the necessary energy and essential nutrients to maintain a healthy body condition. It is important to ensure your metabolically challenged horses are still receiving a balanced supplement or concentrate feed that meets these requirements without harmful sugars or starches.

Quality Forage

Horses require a high amount of fiber in their diet for proper digestion and health. Ensure horses have adequate access to quality forage such as hay or pasture. Monitor your metabolically challenged horses and manage their access to forage as needed.

IFA Safe Horse Conditioner

IFA Safe Horse Conditioner is specially formulated by our in-house team of certified animal nutritionists as a safe alternative to high-energy feeds. The concentrated formula is easily digested and promotes overall health with balanced access to essential nutrients.

Benefits of a Low Starch and Low Sugar Feed

IFA Safe Horse Conditioner is especially formulated without grains or molasses for improved health of metabolically challenged horses. Because many metabolic issues in horses are aggravated by sugars and starches in the diet, avoiding these ingredients can improve overall health and digestion.

Learn more about the benefits of IFA Safe Horse Conditioner

The IFA safe feed is also formulated for improved nutrition and enhanced immune system health. As a concentrate feed the conditioner provides necessary nutrients often lacking in forage but in a safe and easily digested package.


Helping Your Metabolically Challenged Horses

Caring for metabolically challenged horses can sometimes be challenging but the right feed and proper nutrition will help them remain healthy and performance ready.

Stop by your local IFA Country Store to learn more about the benefits of IFA Safe Horse Conditioner and how it can benefit your metabolically challenged horses. If you have additional questions, reach out to a member of our expert nutrition team.

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Information for this article was provided by Dennis Christensen, M.S., P.A.S., Feed & Nutrition Advisor, Draper IFA Feed; Heidi Simper, M.S., Nutritionist, IFA Feed and Nutrition; and Jill Singleton, Bagged Feed Category Manager, IFA Feed & Nutrition.