Food in­tol­er­ance

Your Horse (UK) - - Ask The Experts -

QIs it pos­si­ble for horses to be al­ler­gic or in­tol­er­ant to cer­tain feeds? I feed al­falfa to my geld­ing but I’ve heard some horses don’t re­spond well to it. He some­times looks a lit­tle tense around the stom­ach area. Lily Gale, Northum­ber­land

AVery lit­tle is known about the patho­gen­e­sis of food al­ler­gies in horses and the ma­jor­ity of re­search into the sub­ject has con­cen­trated on hu­man food hy­per­sen­si­tiv­i­ties. For a food al­lergy to oc­cur, it im­plies there’s an im­muno­log­i­cal re­ac­tion to an in­gested sub­stance. Not all food al­ler­gies are truly al­ler­gic in na­ture and a bet­ter term for the con­di­tion would be ‘food in­tol­er­ance’. In­gre­di­ents that are re­ported to cause ad­verse food re­ac­tions in some horses in­clude al­falfa, bar­ley, beet pulp, bran, clover, oats, wheat, feed ad­di­tives and some feed sup­ple­ments. De­tailed in­for­ma­tion is still lack­ing and much of the in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice about so-called food al­ler­gies in the horse is care-based and anec­do­tal.

Sen­si­tive tum­mies

Some horses may have sen­si­tive di­ges­tive sys­tems and they also tend to be the ones that re­act to a va­ri­ety of things other than feed — changes in rou­tine and en­vi­ron­ment, for ex­am­ple. They may be prone to pe­ri­ods of loose drop­pings, bouts of colic and episodes of un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour. In th­ese sit­u­a­tions it’s usu­ally help­ful, and im­prove­ments are gen­er­ally ob­served, if the horse is fed and man­aged in the same way as a horse that ac­tu­ally has a food in­tol­er­ance. Food al­ler­gies can some­times be quite dif­fi­cult to di­ag­nose, and it can de­lay the process of putting into place cor­rect man­age­ment strate­gies to help elim­i­nate the prob­lem. The start­ing point is ob­tain­ing a good his­tory of the horse and gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion from the per­son who is re­spon­si­ble for their day-to-day care, bear­ing in mind that this may not nec­es­sar­ily be the owner of the horse.

Find­ing the cul­prit

The only re­li­able way to con­firm a di­ag­no­sis of a food al­lergy is with an elim­i­na­tion diet. Both in­tra­der­mal al­ler­gen testing and serum testing have shown to be un­re­li­able for iden­ti­fy­ing food al­ler­gies, although use­ful as a start­ing point for elim­i­na­tion di­ets. The ideal elim­i­na­tion diet con­sists of feed­ing your horse a sin­gle pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drate source to which he has had no pre­vi­ous ex­po­sure. How­ever, this can be tricky. We would rec­om­mend lim­it­ing the diet to fresh hay from a dif­fer­ent grass to that which he’s fed nor­mally (ti­mothy grass, say) and elim­i­na­tion of any feed and sup­ple­ments from the diet for a pe­riod of time to see if the symp­toms im­prove. The food trial should be con­tin­ued for be­tween eight and 12 weeks to see max­i­mal im­prove­ment, although most cases show progress after four to six weeks. If im­prove­ment is seen, your horse can then be chal­lenged with items from his pre­vi­ous diet, with one new item in­tro­duced each week. This al­lows the of­fend­ing items to be iden­ti­fied and per­ma­nently re­moved from the ra­tion.

Food al­ler­gies are a dif­fi­cult area to nav­i­gate

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