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Should You Worry About Sugar in Your Horse’s Diet?



Sugar appears to be the root of all evils when it comes to the human diet. As there are increasing concerns over equine obesity and laminitis, should you be worried about sugar in your horse’s diet?

What is Sugar?


Sugars are carbohydrates and there are three different forms of sugar which can be consumed. Monosaccharides such as glucose, fructose and galactose, Disaccharides including sucrose and lactose and Oligosaccharides which are found in vegetables and forages.

Sources of Sugar


The biggest source of sugar in your horse’s diet is forage. Grass contains up to 7.5% sugar so that is 75g for every kilo of grass eaten. This could mean that if your horse is turned out all day, it could eat its way through almost 2kgs of sugar. Hay contains approximately 10% sugar but you can leach some of this away by soaking the hay. Compound feeds generally contain a little less sugar than grass but this is cereal starch and so is more problematic.

Sugar is vital for life and good health. It is the primary energy source for the brain. Even if the sugar levels in the diet are kept low, the horse’s body will convert other nutrients to glucose to meet its energy needs. Horses cannot be allergic to sugar but they may have an intolerance to cereal starch and this can lead to behavioural issues.

Molasses


Molasses in feed is a concern especially where a horse is prone to laminitis. It is a by-product of either sugar cane or sugar beet processing and so is not a pure sugar. Having said that, it’s the rate at which molasses is fed rather than its sugar content that’s important. Feeds containing molasses are not automatically high in sugar but they could be. For laminitics and it is the total amount of sugar in their diet rather than specific ingredients that is crucial.

Carrots and Treats


Carrots contain very small amounts of sugar and so are not really an issue. Treats tend to be high in sugar but should be fed in such small quantities so that they will not cause a problem.

Should You Fear Sugar?


Horses are well adapted to digesting a reasonable level of sugar in their diet. But some animals may require a low sugar diet, particularly those prone to laminitis. A balanced diet which does not feature too much compound feed will not contain too many sugars but you need to go easy on the high sugar treats. If your horses is "hot" and exhibits behavioural issues, this will usually be a result of having consumed too much feed rather than too much sugar. If any element of their feed is problematic, then it will be the cereal starch.

Horses’ teeth will not be harmed by the sugar in their diet. They salivate heavily when eating which cleans their teeth naturally and prevents bacteria from forming. Horses don’t tend to get tooth decay like people who drink too many sugary drinks!

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