Sugar is a carbohydrate and is classed as a Non Structural Carbohydrate (NSC). Most of a horses’ intake of NSCs are broken down in the small intestine into glucose. Glucose provides energy and can be used instantly, if it is not immediately required it is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles, ready to be used when needed. Glucose is essential in the horse’s diet as it is one of the only nutrients that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Glycogen is essential for muscle contraction, digestion, respiration and brain function therefore sugar is an essential nutrient in the horse’s diet.
Problems can occur when horses are fed too much sugar in their diet. Most NSCs are broken down into glucose in the small intestine using enzymes, this glucose is then passed into the bloodstream for use of storage. An overload of glucose in the bloodstream impacts on insulin levels, insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating the levels of glucose in the blood. When the glucose levels are too high more insulin is produced which can result in too much insulin, this has been linked as a cause of endocrinopathic laminitis. Due to a number of factors a large number of horses and ponies are insulin resistant and less able to control high glucose levels effectively in the blood stream.
If the horse consumes a high level of NSCs not all the sugars can be broken down in the small intestine and will pass into hindgut along with the bacteria that feed from them. Digestion in the hindgut is microbial and relies on the fibre digesting bacteria which thrive in suitable conditions. When undigested NSCs enter this environment they can ferment which produces lactic acid. This disrupts the sensitive environment and decreases the pH which can kill the fibre-digesting microorganisms and can result in digestive disturbances and create toxins.
Silvermoor offer a range of low sugar products. Silvermoor timothy haylage is made using timothy grass which is naturally low in sugar and high in fibre. Silvermoor lite haylage is ryegrass that is managed specifically to ensure the lowest levels of sugar. Horses are trickle feeders and their digestive systems are designed to continuously process small amounts of feed so spreading out feeds and encouraging little and often behaviour is crucial. Silvermoor Swingers can really help achieve this as they are designed so that the horse has to work to eat them and can not eat them down quickly, this provides stimulation to the digestive system and entertainment in the stable. When your horse deserves a treat we also have Tremendous Turmeric and Calming Chamomile Treatsies which are low in sugar and starch providing a healthy treat.