Feeding Horses With Equine Rhabdomyolysis Syndrome (ERS) and muscle problems

The incidence of Equine Rhabdomyolysis Syndrome (ERS) has been reported at between 5-7% of the Thoroughbred population. This includes up to 14% of eventers and about 1% in the leisure horse population. Affected horses appear to have a susceptibility to the problem, which can be triggered by several factors. The underlying susceptibility is currently divided into two groups - those where the issue is in the muscle and those that don’t appear to have an intrinsic problem in the muscle. There are three sub groups identified that belong to the group where an issue is apparent in the muscle. 

Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (ER)

  • Currently believed to be due to a problem with muscle contraction
  • Most common in Thoroughbreds, Arabs and Standardbreds
  • Trigger factors include restraining when working at speed, high levels of concentrates, prolonged box rest and over-excitability.

Sporadic ER

  • Researchers suggest that sporadic forms of ER are due to over-training and muscle strain, dietary deficiencies of electrolytes, vitamin E and selenium or exercising when the horse is suffering with a viral infection
  • Management advice is to ensure the diet is balanced and that exercise load is appropriate to the health and fitness of the horse at the time

Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM)

  • Thought to be due to abnormal uptake or storage of glycogen in muscles
  • Most common in Quarter Horses and Cob types
  • Trigger factors include high carbohydrate diets, infection, rest for a few days prior to exercise.

How do I know if my horse has a problem?

MuscleThe most obvious symptom is the cramping or seizing of muscles causing the horse to find moving difficult. Symptoms can be subtle such as a shortening of the stride or as extreme as a complete inability to move. The frequency of the problem can also vary depending on the cause of the problem. Nearly all occurrences happen during exercise.

If your horse is showing any of these symptoms you should call your Vet. A blood test will usually reveal high muscle enzymes demonstrating that muscles have been damaged. For a definitive diagnosis for PSSM muscle biopsies are usually required.

Top Tips!

There are lots of things you can do to try and reduce the risk of ER or PSSM occurring:

  • Where possible feed a high fibre, low sugar and starch diet.
  • Ensure you are feeding a 'balanced' diet. If you are feeding less than the manufacturers’ recommended amount of mix or cubes, or a fibre diet, add a good broad-spectrum supplement such as Dengie Hi-Fi Balancer, Alfa-A Balancer, Leisure Vits & Mins or Performance Vits & Mins.
  • Keep stress to a minimum.
  • For recurrent ERS sufferers try to keep a diary of each attack which may allow you to notice a pattern and identify the trigger factors for your horse.
  • Use oil rather than cereals for extra calories eg Dengie Alfa-A Oil, Alfa-A Molasses Free or Healthy Tummy.
  • Ensure you warm-up and cool down sufficiently.
  • Do not increase concentrates in preparation for extra work, wait until the work has been done.
  • Reduce concentrates when the horse is having time off, even if only for one day.
  • Allow regular turn-out, particularly when the horse is not being exercised.
  • Keep work intensity and duration consistent· Feed salt daily for working horses and electrolytes when necessary.
  • If there is any sign of viral infection on the yard, reduce workload immediately.
  • Always seek veterinary advice, particularly for recurrent or severe attacks.

Personalised Feeding Plan

If your horse suffers with ERS, contact us for a personalised feeding plan. With a range of high fibre and oil feeds, Dengie has a feed to meet the requirements of every ERS sufferer.

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