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Managing a Young Horse with PSSM

I have a Clydesdale/Friesian cross just turned 2 yrs old filly. She is 16h and weight is good, not wanting her to get any heavier. She came to me 4 weeks ago on a local grain that was a 10% – 12% protein pelleted mix, not sure of the fat, but was on 1/3 cup Omega Horseshine 2x day and about 7 1/2#’s of this grain per day. I switched her to Blue Seal Sentinel Grow and Excel extruded. 14% protein and 10% fat, of about 8#’s per day with the same amount of Omega Horseshine for about 4 weeks. Seeing that this new grain had Omega’s in it, I stopped the Omega Horseshine for about a week and also concerned that I didn’t want her any heavier….and within a week, noticed that she had some erratic stepping with her hind legs at times.

She is also on free choice orchard grass hay. She does use the salt lick alot also. I did do some research on EPSM and this sounded like the movements, so I switched her to Triple Crown Low Starch grain which has a NSC value of 13.5%…no corn, no molasses, no alfalfa. 13% protein and 6% fat. The other Sentinel grain had molasses, which, if she has EPSM, she should not have, that is why I switched to the Low Starch. She was also getting horse treats that contained molasses, which I have stopped. I am giving her 6#’s of Low starch grain every day and 1/3 cup of Omega Horseshine, 2x day, to bring her fat content up a bit, as this is important for EPSM. She was going out on pasture for a few hours daily, but only on about a 60 foot by 60 foot grass area, which is kept short by mowing, so she wasn’t getting alot at all. I have stopped this also…..can I continue with this, or keep her off all grass at this point? Am I doing the right thing and should I change anything? Thank you for your help, I appreciate it.:) Carolyn

Dear Carolyn,

Ordinarily I’m fine with owners feeding and managing horses for EPSM (or PSSM, Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) even if they don’t have definite diagnosis. For most adult horses, reducing simple sugars, adding a bit of fat, and increasing turnout and exercise are beneficial or at least not harmful.

However in your case you’ve got a young horse that still needs higher levels and slightly different ratios of certain nutrients to grow correctly. So for your specific situation, I would ask a veterinarian to examine her for true signs of PSSM, perform specific testing for the disorder if indicated, and, based on the outcome of this testing, develop a diet and exercise protocol that will reduce the signs of PSSM while still meeting her nutritional requirements.

What are the exact differences in diet for an adult horse vs. a just-turned two-year-old like yours? The NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses has tables in the appendix that list the Daily Nutrient Requirements of Horses with mature weights ranging from 200kg (440lbs) to 900kg (1980lbs). Being part draft, I’m guessing your filly will fit best into the 600kg (1320lb) range when she’s reached her full size. Next, under the heading “Growing Animals” there are several 24 month choices: no exercise, light, moderate, heavy or very heavy. I don’t see in your question any mention of starting training yet so I’m going to look at the line for “no exercise.” In addition to more energy (calories), a two-year-old horse needs more crude protein (including lysine) than the adult horse, almost twice as much calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin E, plus more phosphorus, iron, manganese, zinc, and Vitamin A. With all these differences—some of them substantial—without a definite diagnosis of PSSM I recommend you focus more on her needs as a growing animal to give her the best start you possibly can.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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3 comments on “Managing a Young Horse with PSSM
  1. Amber Goins says:

    I have a gypsy with the same issue, I did the test, not that expensive, worth the money!

    I almost lost my baby twice before I found a vet that suspected, did the research, and helped me with guidelines on his management!

    We are all very happy and healthy now!

  2. Lisa Somerville says:

    One of our boarding horses exhibits all the symptoms of PSSM. It is my understanding, the only definitive means of Dx is to have a DNA test using mane or tail. How much does this test cost?…thank you

  3. Jenny says:

    Actually, Lisa, the DNA test isn’t definitive. It is fairly accurate for one of the two types. The only definitive means of diagnosis is a muscle biopsy, which done through the University of Minnesota is very reasonable. (Under $100 for the test itself, but add in your vet’s charges & overnight shipping of the sample.)

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