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EHV and the Equine Immune System, by Dr. Juliet M Getty

Getty in barn small high res-1The recent outbreak of equine herpes  virus (EHV) has caused great concern among  horse owners throughout the U.S. and Canada.   Did you know that your horse is already likely to  be infected with this virus?  Virtually all horses  carry this opportunistic organism and it remains  latent until something (usually stress) triggers it  and it has an “opportunity” to show symptoms,  producing respiratory and even neurological  distress.   Ever have a cold sore?  That’s also  herpes and it remains dormant in our systems  until we get physically or mentally stressed.   Some stress is inevitable   traveling long distances, strange  settings, unfamiliar horses, performance  intensity, different smells and noises “¦ the  list is long.

Heavy travel seasons are coming  up this summer ““ we are just wrapping up many popular  horse fair months.   And stress suppresses the  immune function, making it difficult for your  horse to combat illness.   Now is the time to get  your horse’s immune system in tip top shape  so he is less, much less, likely to succumb to a  stress-related illness such as EHV.

The key to  prevention is twofold: Reduce stress and boost  immunity.   An empty stomach = Stress.   One of the most stressful situations for  any horse, regardless of the horse’s schedule  and environment, is an empty stomach.   Not  being permitted to graze continually on pasture  and/or hay goes against a horse’s instincts and  innate physiology.   This is because the horse’s  stomach, unlike our own, continuously secretes  acid, even when empty.   Chewing produces  saliva, a natural antacid, which neutralizes  that acid.   Left without anything to chew, the  horse will suffer, both physically and mentally.   Furthermore, the motility of the gastrointestinal  tract (which is made of muscles) depends on  a steady supply of forage flowing through it in  order to prevent colic.   And finally, exercising on  an empty stomach can lead to an ulcer as the  acid sloshes around to the unprotected areas  of the stomach’s lining.

Horses are “trickle feeders,” designed  to continually and freely roam and graze.   But  in addition to 24/7 turnout and free choice  access to pasture and/or hay, there are  many helpful nutrients that can protect your horse, especially while training, traveling, and  performing.   Vitamins E and C, in particular, as  well as vitamin A (beta carotene), magnesium,  adequate protein, and Omega 3 fatty acids  stabilize the immune system, allowing your  horse to be less susceptible toward developing  infections.   How much supplementation, you ask?   Vitamins E and C are potent antioxidants  and are best increased to higher levels during  intense physical and mental stress.   Offer 5  IUs of vitamin E and 5 mg of vitamin C per  pound of body weight (10 IUs of vitamin E and  10 mg of vitamin C per kg of body weight).   Slowly wean your horse down to lower levels  of these vitamins (especially vitamin C) during  maintenance periods (unless you have an  older horse, who will need extra vitamin C due  to reduced production).   Selenium needs also increase during  intense physical activity ““ the diet should  contain 1 to 3 mg per day during maintenance,  and up to 5 mg of selenium per day for heavily  active horses .    Hay has little, if any, beta carotene (used  to make vitamin A).   Most vitamin/mineral  supplements and feeds are fortified with this  vitamin.   Offer 60 to 120 IU/kg body weight for  performance; 30 IU/kg bw at maintenance.   Omega 3 fatty acids are best provided by  flaxseed meal — provide 1/2 cup per 400 lbs  (180 kg) of body weight.   Chia seeds are also  high in omega 3s (1/4 cup per 400 lbs of body  weight).   Protein should be 14-16% of the diet,  and be of high quality.   Offer a variety of  sources (grass plus alfalfa,  for example) so they can  complement each other’s  amino acid profile.   Don’t forget the  magnesium ““ important for  muscle and nerve function.   Borderline deficiencies can  affect your horse’s behavior  and stamina.   An appropriate  dose is 5,000 mg of  magnesium per 500 lbs (227  kg) of body weight.

It’s amazingly simple.   All this may sound  complicated, but it’s actually  just the opposite.   It’s amazingly simple.   Allow  your horse to nibble on hay all day and night,  and never let him perform without some hay  in his digestive tract.   Fill in the nutritional  gaps that exist in hay with a good vitamin/  mineral supplement, offer omega 3s and extra  antioxidants during stressful times, and your  horse will not only perform better, calmer, and  more gracefully, but will come home healthy  and ready to learn more.

The above article offers ways to protect your horse’s immune function.   For more details,  please refer to Feed Your Horse Like A Horse:  Chapter 3 ““ Fundamentals of Fats.   Pages 44-45.    Chapter 4 ““ Fundamentals of Protein and  Amino Acids.   Pages 55-59.   Chapter 5 ““ Fundamentals of Minerals.   Pages 65-67, 75-76.   Chapter 6 ““ Fundamentals of Vitamins.   Entire chapter.    Chapter 16 ““ Immunity Issues.   Entire  chapter.    Chapter 20 ““ Athletes.

Entire chapter  Juliet M.   Getty, Ph.D. has been called a  “pioneer in free choice forage feeding,” and  her articles and interviews often appear in  national and international publications.   Based  in beautiful rural Bayfield, Colorado, Dr. Getty  runs a consulting company, Getty Equine  Nutrition, LLC, www.gettyequinenutrition.com,  through which she offers private consultations and designs customized feeding plans to  promote horses’ health, reverse illness, and  optimize performance.   A former university professor and recipient  of several teaching awards, she is a popular  speaker, and is author of the book, Feed Your  Horse Like a Horse, based on the premise  that horses (and other equines) should be  fed in sync with their natural instincts and  physiology.    Horse owners and caretakers hungry for  knowledge have several resources, offered by  Dr. Getty, for dependable information on feeds  and feeding: a growing library of articles and  recorded lectures, quizzes to test your nutrition  knowledge, plus a monthly e-newsletter.  Information for this article extracted from Dr. Getty’s website. For more information, call, email, or contact Dr. Getty through her links below:

Contact Information:
Getty Equine Nutrition, LLC
3828 Blain Hwy
Waverly, OH 45690
740-663-2333
Fax: 740-663-2334
www.GettyEquineNutrition.com

 

Have you owned a horse who needed treatment for EHV? If so, what was the outcome? Any advice to share?

We enjoy hearing from you!

 

Previously published in Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 7

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