Any damage or disease of the liver in a horse or any other mammal refers to liver disease. This disease can be caused by a poor, unhealthy diet, scarring, or even a more severe underlying issue such as cancer. Your horse’s liver is very important for its digestive system, so if any damage or disease is detected, it needs to be treated as soon as it is seen. You can take help from equine veterinary services near you.
It is not easy to detect liver disease in a horse. The horse’s liver is a greatly regenerative organ. The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself, meaning many intense conditions will show changes instantly, and the liver will still be able to regenerate itself.
Even though regeneration is a valuable feature in a horse’s biological system, this feature can cause difficulties while detecting liver damage as the symptoms can be displaced due to regeneration.
Horses typically do not visibly showcase pain or discomfort, so the person taking care of the horses must always stay alert to detect the problems at an early stage. In most health conditions in horses, you will encounter a change in their behaviour before you start to see any other symptom.
To understand the seriousness of liver disease in horses, it is important to understand the role of the liver in a horse. In horses, the liver is one of the largest organs. The liver makes up 1% of the entire weight of the horse.
The liver plays a major role in the digestive process of a horse. Let us take a look at the critical functions of the horse’s liver:
- Produces bile to digest fat,
- Produces cholesterol and proteins to hold fat throughout the body,
- Produces proteins for blood plasma,
- Converts additional glucose to glycogen for storage and energy supply,
- Regulates amino acid levels,
- Processes haemoglobin,
- Converts ammonia to urea,
- Clears the blood of toxins and drugs,
- Removes clotting of blood,
- Produces immune factors, and
- Removes bacteria from the bloodstream.
The goal is to provide everything that the horse requires without putting too much stress on the liver.
How Does Diet Affect Your Horse’s Digestive System?
One of the main reasons why horses suffer from liver disease is their diet. We often tend to put our animals on a similar meal schedule as us, such as three meals a day. Although this schedule might work for us, this does not work for animals, especially horses.
Horses typically graze throughout the day, and due to this, their liver is constantly producing bile to digest food. So, when we provide meals to horses at certain times in a day, the bile sits in their stomach and slowly damages their digestive system, leading to liver diseases in horses. If you suspect such things going on with your horse then it is important you contact equine veterinary services.
The intake of protein has to be controlled in horses with liver diseases, especially those struggling with a behaviour change. Protein needs to be kept at a minimum as excess protein can worsen liver damage, and the horses will take longer to recover.
Higher levels of protein lead to higher ammonia levels in the horse, which is why it needs to be controlled. Adult horses will only need enough protein to make up 8% of their entire diet. This protein limit can be met by feeding standard, good quality hay to the horses.
Forage should make up the largest portion of what your horse eats, such as grass and hay. Consumption of forage can be maintained by letting the horse graze in the pasture throughout the day. To avoid unintentional protein consumption during grazing, it is better to provide forage to the horses on your own accord.
The horses are free to graze the pasture as long as it does not contain weed or any high protein plants. Let the horse graze during the night if the horse experiences photosensitivity symptoms.
Ready-made food for your horse based on a standard diet is known as a compound feed. Compound feeds are a great way to feed a healthy horse, but they might not suit a horse with liver diseases. The primary factor that you should notice while feeding compound feeds to your horse is starch intake. A horse should be fed only one gram of starch for every kilogram they weigh. The high starch level can lead to insulin dysfunctionality and can worsen liver disease. Break the compound feed into four to six meals throughout the day.
Horses with liver disease may find it extremely difficult to digest oil. Therefore oil should be kept as little as possible.
A horse should be fed 0.01 to 0.1 mL of oil for every kilogram they weigh. If your horse has diarrhoea or steatorrhea symptoms, you should completely cut off the consumption of oil and consult a vet.
Vitamins and minerals
There will be some vitamins and minerals that you will have to feed in excess. Some will have to be fed less, as minerals and vitamins are processed and distributed by the liver, and this process will not work properly in horses with liver diseases.
Ensure that your horse is receiving a balanced diet. Feed them the right amount of compound feed and forage throughout the day to ensure that their digestive system is not worsening due to the damage caused by bile. Avoid supplements that increase the level of iron and copper in horses. You may need to double the intake of vitamins A, D, and E in their diet as horses may have difficulty processing these. Vitamin C and zinc supplements will also be helpful for horses.
If you want a speedy recovery of your horses from liver disease, take proper care of their diet and make sure that you consult the vet regularly.