As I search for new information about diet and the effects of starches and grains on the human body, it is amazing how many correlations there are in the animal kingdom. My own experience that a low carbohydrate diet is helpful in treating feline obesity is a good example. By removing grains from her diet, my round little furball, Xena, has lost 8 pounds in only a few of months. Cats who are diabetic are often placed on low carbohydrate diets to reduce insulin spikes and blood sugar levels. People have also found a low carbohydrate diet helpful when dealing with obesity and chronic disease. Yet I was surprised to discover that grains can also create problems for horses, including behavior problems.
"Increased amounts of grain can lead to some horses becoming hyperactive because they are able to quickly digest and absorb the starch in the grain which causes a responding “spike” in their glucose and hormone levels that cause them to become over-sensitive."
"Horses will react in two ways when they have too much energy in their diet. They will either become fat and there won’t be much difference in their attitude or behavior, or the horse will become hyperactive and burn off the extra energy through nervous behavior."
Other issues caused by excessive grains in horses include;
* Spazmotic colic - more
* Behavior problems - more
* Hyperactivity - more
* Laminitis (foot inflammation and damage) - more
* Osteochondrosis (cartilage/joint/growth plate malformations) - more
Of the three species of mammal discussed in this blog post, omnivorous human, carnivorous feline, and the ungulate horse, the one you would think that would be most capable of ingesting carbohydrates is the horse. After all, they evolved to spend their days grazing on grasses, and grains are basically grass seeds. Instead there is case after case of grains causing problems from behavioral to developmental.
The modern use of easily digestible sugars and starches has caused plenty of problems for humans as evidenced by our recent "obesity epidemic" and the rise in cases of type 2 diabetes. Children are being diagnosed with ADD and AD/HD at an alarming rate. Our pets, like my cat, are also suffering from obesity, cancer and behavior issues. Now I discover that horses have the same problems stemming from the same cause; Too many easily digestible sugars, starches and carbohydrates effecting health, causing obesity and promoting chronic diseases. In the case of humans, felines and equines, all have deviated from the diets they evolved to eat with disastrous results and grains appear to be the common factor.
Horses evolved to forage, grazing from 16-22 hours a day. They eat grasses and hay. Any starches or sugars they might ingest were infrequent and digested slowly. They weren't meant to have a quick flood glucose that you get from starches and grains. True, the ability of individuals within each species to process carbohydrates will differ. We all know that skinny friend or relative that lives of bread, pasta, and rice and doesn't gain a pound, and the same happens with our pets. While we tend to focus on weight, the behavior factor also has to be considered. I can't help but wonder if the problem people are having with their horses are the same problems some have with their kids.
If you take a kid and give them excess carbohydrates (like the recommended breakfast of juice, toast, milk and cereal), then send them off to school and make them sit still in a chair, is it a surprise that one of two things happen...they have behavioral outbursts or they get fat? How is this much different than feeding a horse carbs then keeping it locked in a stall? Is it any wonder that it would either get fat or get twitchy?
People in the equine world seem to have little difficulty figuring out that grains are a problem, yet there is still much resistance to the idea that carbohydrates are an issue for people and pets too. If the non-meat eating critter can't handle grains, what sense does it make for us to try...especially at the level recommended by the government, nutritionists and other health professionals? This disconnect really blows my tiny little mind, and instead of listening to the "experts", I guess I will just have to use some horse sense.