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  • March 09, 2023 3 min read

    Protein is a key nutrient in a horse's diet. It is a part of every cell and tissue in the horse's body and can be found in the muscles, skin, tendons, hair, and hooves. Protein is also essential for the growth and repair of body tissues, and horses need a sufficient amount of protein to maintain their health and performance. However, is there such a thing as feeding too much protein? Well, the answer to this depends on your horse and your budget! Keep reading to find out if feeding too much protein is a problem for your horse!

    Protein Requirements for Horses

    Protein makes up about 18% of the horse's body and is required for:

    • Growth and repair of tissues 
    • Maintaining fluid balance within tissues 
    • Synthesis of hormones 
    • Regulation of blood clotting 
    • Antibodies 
    • Transporting substances in and out of cells 
    • Hair and skin 

    Horses have different protein requirements depending on age, weight, and activity level. Foals, growing horses, and lactating mares require more protein than mature horses. Horses that are heavily exercised or involved in high-performance activities also need more protein to maintain muscle mass and recover from exertion.

    Feeding Protein to Horses 

    When feeding protein to horses, it is essential to consider the horse's individual needs and the balance of nutrients in their diet. Underfeeding protein can cause muscle wastage and poor performance, whereas overfeeding protein can lead to health problems. Let's take a quick look at some of the issues associated with overfeeding protein. 

    1. Liver and Kidney Problems 

    We often associate a diet high in protein with potential liver and kidney problems. For horses that have pre-existing medical conditions with either their kidneys or liver, it is recommended a low-protein diet that meets but does not exceed their nutritional requirements is fed. 

    However, for all other healthy horses, there is no evidence to suggest a diet high in protein will cause any harm. 

    2. High Water Requirements 

    If you feed a diet that is high in protein, then you may notice that your horse will drink - a lot! And we all know what happens next; they will urinate a lot! This may not be a problem if your horse is paddocked, but for a stabled horse, it may mean that you are changing shavings more regularly. Further, the smell of ammonia may be strong, which may cause respiratory issues.

    3. Higher Heat Production 

    When horses consume excess protein, their bodies must break it down, and this process generates more heat compared to digesting and metabolising fat and carbohydrates. The heat generated from protein breakdown can cause the horse's body temperature to increase, leading to an increase in sweating. This can be dangerous for horses in moderate to heavy work or for those that live in hot or humid climates, as there is a risk of overheating and dehydration. 

    4. Hyperactivity 

    Excess protein doesn't cause hyperactivity in a horse per se, but if a horse is getting too much, then it will convert this into energy…and this excess energy will need to be let out! So it is important to keep this in mind and consider your horse's workload before adjusting its protein levels. 

    5. Your wallet 

    If you are feeding more than you need, you are literally turning your money into poo. Good quality protein sources are expensive, so if you are overfeeding this component in your horse's diet, you are throwing away money, and your horse doesn't benefit from it. So, make sure that your horse has a balanced diet to keep your wallet full and your horse happy and healthy. 

    Take Home Message 

    Feeding too much protein will unlikely cause your horse any harm except in the following situations;

    • Your horse does not have access to water 
    • Your horse is in moderate to heavy work
    • Has a pre-existing liver or kidney disease 
    • Lives in a hot or humid climate 
    • It is stabled for most of the time 

    However, it is important to ensure that the protein requirement is balanced and at the optimum level for your horse, even if your horse has no existing medical conditions. As always, we are here to help! Visit us in store or online for all of your feed requirements! 

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