What do I do if my horse eats a ton of grain?


This is one of the many ways horses like to give us heart attacks, and in this case it’s a legit and valid reason.  Colic and laminitis are two very real problems that result from a horse that ate his way through the feed room.  


The first thing to do is call your horse’s Veterinarian.  ASAP.  This is a real emergency and with prompt veterinary attention, your horse might not even develop the tiniest twinge of colic or laminitis. How does this gorging of grains lead to laminitis and colic?  Fortified feeds and grains are delicious and quickly digested.  They don’t spend a lot of time in the stomach, and therefore most of the digestion happens in the hind gut. The hind gut is where the microbes have set up shop to help your horse digest.  Some microbes LOVE sugars and starches, and the other microbes LOVE fiber.  


No smorgasbord allowed.  


Now….if your horse eats a bunch of grain/fortified feed (as little as six pounds can be dangerous) the sugar and starch loving microbes feast.  The sugar and starch loving microbes produce by-products, which change the pH of the hindgut as well as cause inflammation.  This makes the fiber loving microbes die…. which in turn make endotoxins as the fiber loving microbes break down.  It’s these endotoxins that act in your horse’s hooves to create laminitis.  


The second thing to do is get your horse’s hooves into some ice.  Even if his hooves don't feel hot.  All of his hooves.  Nothing battles laminitis better than ice, and getting a jump start is the best thing you can do, long before any heat or obvious pain starts.  This is going to seem like a lot - but icing his feet for 24 to 48 hours is the best thing you can do to head off laminitis.   


Ice the hooves.  It's your best bet for hoof health.  


While you are waiting for your Veterinarian to arrive, you have some homework to do.  Try and determine how much he ate and how much manure he has passed.  Make a note of all of his vital signs (temperature, pulse and respirations) and definitely check all four digital pulses.  Check for hydration.  These actions monitor a measurable value that you and your Vet can track over the next few days. 


Check his digital pulses often.  As a general rule, more pulse = more things happening in the hoof = more reasons to ice and call the Vet! 


The next thing to do is wait for your Veterinarian to show up while packing your horse’s hooves with ice.  Your Vet will likely administer some anti-inflammatory meds, and perhaps some activated charcoal to absorb the toxins.  In some cases, your Vet may need to perform a gastric lavage to physically flush your horse’s digestive system.  Then your Vet can give you a plan of action regarding managing any colics and laminitis (or diarrhea) or anything else than can pop up as a result of gorging on grains. 


Has your horse ever helped himself to a grain or feed buffet?