The LIVER has multiple functions & is responsible for many processes vital to life, in particular:
- Bile production – contains fat-digesting enzymes etc
- Excretion of bilirubin, cholesterol, drugs & hormones.
- Metabolism of proteins, fats & carbohydrates.
- Enzyme activation.
- Glycogen, mineral & vitamin storage
- Plasma protein & clotting factor synthesis
- Blood cleansing
It is consequently susceptible to various forms of damage, which, because of its ability to repair itself only become apparent when severe, usually manifesting as hepatitis. Rapid treatment is essential, as the damage can become irreversible resulting in death. A common cause is ragwort poisoning, which is cumulative. Symptoms of liver disease include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Impaired blood clotting
- Filled legs
- Loose droppings
- Discoloured urine
- Head pressing
If liver disease is suspected, veterinary advice is essential. As oils & proteins are processed by the liver, feeds such as alfalfa, beans & hays containing legumes such as clover should be reduced as much as possible. Oil should be replaced with starches & sugars (so long as your horse is not prone to laminitis), e.g molassed feeds with a high cereal content, & sugarbeet pulp. Good quality grass or oat hay should be provided ad-lib. Appetite can be depressed, with potential weight loss, in which case experimentation will be required to find feeds that your horse will eat.
Treatment should only be carried out under veterinary supervision. Supplements such as vitamins B & E & SAME (s-adenosylmethionine) & milk thistle seed may be advised. If you need advice on feeding, first complete the Nutrition Enquiry Form & submit for John Chapman’s appraisal.
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