Over the last few years I have been helping lots of people sort through the enormous amount of information on diet and management of a PSSM horse. Normally when I am helping someone I take a complete history of the horse, its diet, history of tests performed, examine hooves, exercise and management. I have learned that there are some common mistakes being made and perhaps having a list of them might help some new people getting started. I made many of these mistakes myself and had to learn the hard way. Everyone wants to help their horse and we all do the best we can at any given time with the information we have available. There is no consistent information, vets are not helpful as they continue to put horses on a type 1 diet or even worse recommend the most offensive feeds for any horse. The next time a vet recommends a feed, ask them what is in it and why they recommend it. If they can tell you the ingredients and why it will help your horse then maybe he/she might of actually done some research on that feed, but most could not tell you.
Mistake #1- Feeding several supplements that have the same ingredients, for instance feeding two ration balancers. If you are feeding a complete feed then you cannot add a complete vitamin and mineral supplement. Or if you have a complete feed and it has 1,000 IU of E, make sure you count that toward the total E you plan on giving. I see a lot of people giving huge amounts of a certain nutrient with no knowledge that they are even feeding any. Please become a label reader!
Mistake #2- If the diet you are feeding is completely wrong and causing your horse to tie up, remove immediately. There is no need to taper down on something that is causing illness in your horse. Many people have a hard time letting go of feeding grain, your horse might need weight, but they don’t need grains to accomplish that.
Mistake #3- When adding new things to the diet starting too fast and adding too many things. If the horse starts to do well or starts to get worse, there is no way of knowing what might have been the problem. Like for instance oil for a type 1, you might end up needing 2 cups per day, but don’t start with 2 cups, might only start with 1/4 cup. There are many triggers that will cause an episode in your horse, just because you started a new supplement 2 days ago and now they are in episode does not mean it’s the supplement. It could be weather change which is a huge trigger, stressful event such as new shoes put on, vaccinations, and dentistry. I recommend making changes during a time when they are at their best and you know there is nothing in the immediate future that could set them off. Of course this will not always be possible, but it’s a good idea if you can.
Mistake #4 – Moving too quickly through changes. Many people get excited if the horse has gone 1-2 weeks with no issues. I would consider a horse more stable after going 4-6 months with no issues. So being patient and letting the body adjust to one change. The waiting is agonizing and sometimes you might have to stop what you are trying. But I always tried at least 2 more times when I failed the first time because of all the other factors that I don’t get to control.
Mistake #5 – Believing manufacturers when they say a feed is low starch or low sugar. PSSM horses do best on a low NSC feed, (non structural carbohydrate) for type 1 around 10% and for type 2 can go a little higher. You have to add starch and sugar to get NSC values. So a feed Mfg. will say low starch which may be true but they did not add the sugar. If a feed is low NSC it will most the time be proud of that fact and list it on the label. A feed without guaranteed analysis is not a feed I would want to use. Again look at ingredients, if first things listed are oats, barley, wheat, rice brans then it’s a high sugar feed. Please note that almost all feeds these days have soy. I ask over and over again does your horse eat soy and I get the answer NO, but they tell me the feed and it’s a soy based feed.
Mistake #6 – Believing that all fats are created equal. Fat is fat when it comes to calories and the ability to be used for energy. But some like rice bran are high in sugars and that might not work for your horse. Then something like chia seeds have many health benefits which to me makes more sense to use then say corn oil. Please refer to the “Fats and Oils” article in the files section.
Mistake #7 – For a horse diagnosed with type 2 which would include P2,P3,P4, P5. Feeding too much protein when there is no muscle weakness or muscle loss. Type 2 is adult onset disease. If a diagnosis was made prior to the onset of any real symptoms then adding lots and lots of protein and amino acids is not necessarily the right answer. All horses need a balanced diet that would include the 3 limiting amino acids, however adding any more should be done slowly over time and only as needed. So if you were already feeding and alfalfa and grass hay diet and your horse is doing well, might not need to make any change whatsoever. But being aware that any trauma or illness might cause some muscle loss is very helpful.