My Horse Ate Too Much Grain: What To Do?

If your horse breaks into the feed room and eats too much grain, he is in real danger of developing colic or laminitis. What can you do? In this article, we review the steps you need to take if your horse eats too much grain. Read on to learn more.

How Does Excessive Consumption Of Grain Lead To Colic And Laminitis?

How Does Excessive Consumption Of Grain Lead To Colic And Laminitis?

Grain and fortified feeds are easy for horses to eat quickly. Not only that, they are easily and quickly digested. They don’t spend a lot of time in your horse’s stomach. Instead, they move right to the hindgut where microbes start to work on them right away for quick digestion.

The starch and sugar found in horse feed is exactly what some of these microbes need. Simultaneously, there are other microbes that need fiber. The imbalance of starches and sugars versus fiber in the hindgut is what leads to problems with colic and laminitis in horses.

Colic In Horses

If your horse eats an unaccustomed amount of fortified feed or grain (it can be as little as 6 pounds of grain or processed feed) the starch and sugar loving microbes begin the process of digesting all the starches and sugars contained in this feed.

In this process, the microbes produce a number of byproducts. These byproducts can change the pH levels of the hindgut and can also cause systemic inflammation.

When this happens, the microbes that specialize in fiber digestion begin to die. Their death creates a product known as Indo endotoxins. These endotoxins are the cause of laminitis in horses that have ingested too much grain or feed.

Laminitis In Horses

My Horse Ate Too Much Grain. What Should I Do?

The first thing you should do is separate your horse from the grain, be sure he has plenty of fresh water to drink and then call your vet. Excessive ingestion of grain can be a real emergency, but if you get your vet out right away you may be able to ward off the very serious problems of laminitis or colic.

While you’re waiting for your vet, it’s a good idea to cool your horses hooves down with cool water or ice. An old-fashioned way of cooling horses’ hooves down is to have them stand in a stream or other body of cold water.

If you’re not able to do this, you can use buckets or wading pool or, if you have them on hand, hoof boots that are made for holding ice.

While this may seem a bit dramatic, the fact is that keeping your horses hooves and lower legs cool does a great deal to ward off inflammation.

That is the cause of laminitis. Understand that the suffix of the word laminitis – ITIS – means inflammation. Keeping your horse’s feet cool for a solid 24 to 48 hours can go a long way towards preventing a laminitis attack.

Gather Information

Another thing you can do while you’re waiting on your vet is to try to determine exactly what your horse has eaten and how much. Also, look around to see if you can determine how much manure your horse has passed.

Check your horse’s vital signs, including respiration, temperature and pulse. Check digital pulse is in all four legs.

Do a pinch test to check your horse for hydration, and be sure he has plenty of fresh water available at all times.

Armed with this information, you will be able to give your vet a head start on his diagnosis.

What Will The Vet Do?

When your vet arrives, he or she will perform an exam and may end up addressing the problem in several different ways, including:

  • Use of activated charcoal to help absorb toxins in your horses digestive system
  • Gastric lavage to flush the horses digestive system
  • Administration of anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Dosing with mineral oil or laxatives
  • Administration of fluids

If your vet decides to administer activated charcoal, he or she will do so through a nasogastric tube. Activated charcoal helps to limit the amount of feed absorbed by the gut.

Your vet will discuss strategies with you to help you address symptoms of excessive ingestion of grain and feed. These may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Laminitis
  • Colic

Your vet may recommend that you soak your horse’s feet and lower limbs in cold water continuously for as long as 48 hours. When done correctly, this will not damage the tissues. Naturally, you’ll want to take care not to expose your horse directly to ice as this can cause frostbite.

Don’t Delay!

The most important aspects of preventing laminitis and colic after excessive ingestion of feed or grain (be also aware of grain mites!) is early intervention. Start taking measures to prevent laminitis as soon as possible. Be consistent in your actions for several days, and stay in close contact with your vet for further advice.

Keep a close eye on your horse’s digital pulse and the temperature of the hooves. If the pulse and/or the temperature increase, call your vet. Also watch out for signs of laminitis such as lameness, soreness and an unusual way of standing. Horses that are developing or experiencing laminitis may tend to rot back on their heels.

To prevent this problem in the future, be sure to keep your grain secure at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is eating a lot of grain a problem for horses?

When a horse eats a lot of grain, it can immediately cause a great deal of gastric distress, including:
– Digestive upset
– Abdominal pain
– Diarrhea
– Colic
Within a few days, the excessive consumption of starchy grain is likely to lead to the more serious condition known as founder or laminitis.

2. Why does overeating grain cause founder?

Excessive sugars and starch in a horse’s hindgut cause a disruption of the natural balance of good bacteria (micro flora). This causes production of lactic acid and increased acidity in the hindgut. This causes a toxic environment that makes its way into the horse’s bloodstream and to the hooves.

3. How much grain is too much?

Generally speaking, a horse should never eat more than 11 pounds of grain a day; however, most horses should never eat that much. A horse’s diet should consist mostly of forage (e.g. grass, hay, beet pulp). Unless your horse has a very demanding job, such as pulling a cart all day, taking people on trail rides in a national park, cattle herding or racing, it is unlikely your horse will need 11 pounds of grain at any time.

4. Do all horses need grain?

No! If your horse is youngish and healthy and/or an easy keeper, he or she is unlikely to need grain at all. Horses ridden for pleasure and not required to perform demanding jobs usually do just fine with free feed hay and grazing. Discuss your horse’s specific diet with your vet.

5. What can you do if your horse eats too much grain?

First, call your vet. He or she will give you good advice. This advice may include walking your horse while you wait for the vet to arrive. Your veterinarian may decide to dose your horse with:
– Anti-inflammatory drugs
– Mineral oil
– Laxatives
– Fluids
The vet may deem it necessary to administer charcoal through a nasogastric tube to help stop the absorption of the excess feed.

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