Nutritional Articles

Congress report: The 3rd European Equine Health & Nutrition Congress

Published: 2006-05-11

The equine scientific community, feed industry and equine professionals met each other at Ghent University for a multidisciplinary approach regarding the nutrition and health of horses.
From 17 – 18 of March 2006 veterinarians and scientists met with the feed industry and equine professionals at the 3rd European Equine Health & Nutrition Congress. This unique event took place at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Belgium were 135 participants from over 13 countries discussed about topics related to feed & health of horses. Nutriquine N.V. organized the congress in cooperation with the Laboratory of Animal Nutrition and the Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Biology of Large Animals of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University. Representatives of these institutes and representatives from Utrecht University (NED), Wageningen University (NED), Molisse University (I), the Institut für Tierernährung (GER) and l’ Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (F) were seated in the scientific committee of this congress.

The presentation of Véronique Julliand (Laboratoire de Nutrition des Herbivores Monogastriques, Dijon) was titled “Pre- and Probiotics: potentials for equine practice”. Prebiotic compounds (e.g. fruct-olisaccherides) are selectively fermented ingredients that allow specific changes; both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon the wellbeing and health of the host (Note: prebiotic compound are not bacteria/yeasts). Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. Julliand indicated that equine professionals should make sure that the products that they recommend meet the obligations drawn by the EU-regulation first. The authorization of use is given on the strain and the animal species or type basis. Julliand pointed out that most zootechnical and clinical effects of pre- and probiotics are based on the impact of these nutritional supplements on the gastrointestinal (GI) microflora. Most research on probiotics has been conducted with Saccheromyces cerevisiae (SC). Julliand concluded that in equine practice, Saccheromyces cerevisiae could be supplemented for gestating or lactating mares and for foals or growing horses in order to increase fibre digestibility. However, the current use of pre- and probiotics require more studies to better understand the direct effects of these supplements on the GI microflora in the horse. Furthermore, Julliand indicated that through their action, both pre- and probiotics, may probably contribute to animal welfare. Prebiotic compounds may better balance microbial fermentation into various short chain fatty acids, which probably improves intestinal barrier function. As for probiotics, they may prevent the development of pathogens during their passage through the intestinal tract.

Ellen Kienzle (Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich) focused in her presentation on current knowledge about mineral bioavailability in horses. Factors that affect bioavailability of minerals relating to the animal are: species, life stage, health and nutritional status. Factors relating to the diet are level of intake (in relation to requirements), intake of other minerals, intake of substances, which may enhance or impair the absorption of the mineral in question. And finally there are factors related to the mineral compound used, such as water solubility and chelating qualities of the mineral.

Ingrid Vervuert (Institut für Tierernährung, Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Germany) reviewed topics related to factors affecting the glycaemic index of feeds for horses. The glycaemic index (GI) is a ranking of starchy foods based on the postprandial blood glucose response compared to the response to a 50-g glucose test load. Such index has been formulated for human applications. According to Vervuert a simple index for horses is needed that could help in the development of nutritional recommendations for horses with specific issues, such as insulin resistance, laminitis or exercise performance. However, it appears that the GI cannot serve as the only criterion, as it is considerably influenced by several factors: consumption rate, nutrient composition and gastric emptying, especially in the case of mixed feeds. Vervuert stated further that a standardized methodology should be developed for the estimation of GI and insulinaemic index in feedstuffs for horses to make it possible to compare the results of different research groups.

Eleanor Kellon (Equine Nutritional Consultation, Pennsylvania) discussed the use of the herb Gynostemma Pentaphyllum and the Blue green algae Spirulina Platensis in horses based on her practical experience and data derived from other species. Kellon indicated that there is potential for these herbs but there are many possible pitfalls when herbs are applied in equine practice. These include for example the difficulty in extrapolating data across species and determining equine appropriate dosages. Kellon further stated that we are a long way from establishing an equine specific herbal database, but the incorporation of plant based therapies into the equine treatment arsenal holds great promise. However, scientific horse trials executed in this area are lacking.

Donald Topliff (USA) reviewed current knowledge regarding dietary electrolyte management of performance horses. According to Topliff electrolytes are necessary to maintain acid-base homeostasis and they also manage the conduction of actions potentials in nerve and muscle cells. They are also important as co-factors in many metabolic reactions necessary for life. A deficiency or excess of many of the electrolytes can be life threatening. Their effects on performance are not well understood because of the complex interactions between electrolytes and other diet constituents. Nevertheless, diet formulation that considers the dietary cation anion difference (DCAD) and at least provides a balance of cations and anions in a reasonable range is essential for performance horses. A low DCAD has been observed to: decrease blood pH and bicarbonate in mature horses; increase urinary Ca excretion in young, growing and mature sedentary and exercising horses; cause an increased Ca absorption and daily Ca balance in young, growing horses; have no effect on growth parameters; a slower recovery heart rate (HR) in mature exercising horses. A high DCAD has been observed to: increase blood pH and bicarbonate in mature sedentary and exercising horses in short term; decrease urinary Ca excretion in young growing and mature sedentary and exercising horses; cause a decreased Ca absorption in young, growing horses; a speed recovery of resting HR after anaerobic exercise and decreased times in an anaerobic standard exercise test. Topliff further indicated that the DCAD of total rations cannot be predicted with total accuracy due to varying amounts and availability of minerals in grains and hays. Commercially prepared grain mixes and pelleted feeds balanced for mineral content will usually have higher DCAD’s vs. whole grains (e.g., oats, corn). Protein supplements with a high K content will increase the DCAD of most diets (e.g., SBM, Alfalfa pellets). Many tested diets are representative of the range of DCADs that can cause negative effects on Ca retention and performance when fed in the short term. Topliff’s final conclusion was that feeding low DCADs might cause negative effects on Ca metabolism and decrease anaerobic performance in mature horses. Feeding High DCADs over the short term may improve anaerobic performance. Young, growing horses appear to be able to compensate for Low DCADs, and increase absorption of Ca from the diet, while mature horses may not be able to compensate as quickly or effectively. Currently there is no clear explanation for this phenomenon.


After the congress a workshop programme was offered. The organization received about 250 registrations divided over 4 workshops. Peter Bollen (Nutriquine N.V.) demonstrated a software programme (FRASC), which is available for download at http://www.cavalor.com. Nutritionists and equine professionals can use this programme for ration formulation and evaluation.
Horse owners often request blood analysis of their animals for the evaluation of the health status and, especially in equine medicine, an evaluation of the potential towards performance. Piet Deprez (Ghent University) and Eleanor Kellon discussed in their workshop whether blood parameters are useful tools for the nutrition and health status of the animal. Deprez indicated that most blood components are tightly controlled by homeostatic and hormonal mechanisms and inadequate nutrition will only have a detectable influence on most blood parameters in an individual animal under extreme conditions. Although the use of blood analysis in detecting feed related influences is limited, knowledge of the possible influences is useful for a correct interpretation of the results obtained by laboratory analysis.
Participants of the Workshop of Lieven Vlaminck (Ghent University) learned how to improve their skills regarding the oral examination and dental equilibration of horses. Diagnostic ultrasonography has proven to be an indispensable technique for non-invasive evaluation of abdominal organs. This technique was demonstrated to participants of the workshop of Gunther van Loon (Ghent University). Applying transcutaneous ultrasonography allows examining a large part of the abdomen that cannot be palpated per rectum. Van Loon indicated that transcutaneous diagnostic ultrasound is a very useful, non-invasive way to obtain more information of the equine gastro-intestinal tract. Veterinarians can easily apply this technique as a lot of veterinarians already have such an apparatus and may extend the use of it. The technique provides immediate information and is easily applicable and well tolerated in the standing, non-sedated horse.

The proceedings of the European Equine Health & Nutrition Congress are also available as a booklet. The proceedings booklet contains reviews of the invited speaker session and extended abstracts from the free communication session. Information about the congress and order information regarding the proceedings can be obtained from http://www.equine-congress.com