Monday, 16 June 2014

The Danger of Mycotoxins for Horse Husbandry

Mouldy feed
A very nice article warning people who look after horses to be vigilant with their feed. If it gets a bit damp and mouldy there are potential danger to your horses health caused by mycotoxins. Not all fungi contaminating feed do this but those that do are common. The amount of mycotoxin produced in a given situation is very variable and toxic levels are rare. Your horse is very good at detoxifying contaminated feed but if it is regularly fed poor feed it will suffer.

The article does not mention the people working with mouldy feed can also suffer ill health as a result of inhaling the many millions of fungal spores that are released into the air as a result of disturbing the feed - and also if straw bedding is not cleaned out quickly enough and becomes mouldy. Relatively mild allergies, sinusitis are common and will not go away if contact with mouldy material is maintained every day. A few people will become acutely allergic and require hospital attention. People with asthma are particularly vulnerable to serious respiratory reactions, occasionally fatal..

Did you know there are toxic substances tucked away in your horse’s feed and forage? You can’t see them, and you can’t eradicate them, but chances are these compounds, called mycotoxins, are present. Specific molds and fungi produce mycotoxins in soils, grains, and forages when environmental conditions are favorable. Once produced, they are generally very stable and will persist for a long time during storage. Horses that consume grains and forages contaminated by mycotoxins can suffer from a variety of health issues. As horse owners we should be particularly concerned, says Max Hawkins, PhD, nutritionist with Alltech’s mycotoxin management team, because mycotoxins inhibit protein synthesis, which negatively impacts the animal’s physiology and ability to function and repair tissues.
The molds that produce mycotoxins are visible on contaminated feed. However, the mycotoxins can still be present after the mold dies or falls off the feed. These molds can be classified as either field fungi, which grow on plants while they are still rooted in the ground, or storage fungi, which develop after plants are harvested and stored. Field fungi require high moisture conditions (20-21% moisture), while storage molds can grow at lower moisture levels (13-18%). Forage and feed producers and property managers should monitor both moisture and temperature levels carefully so they can be aware of the potential for mycotoxin-producing molds to form. Horse owners should learn to recognize the signs of mycotoxin exposure so they can have their veterinarian out to assess the horse, diagnose the problem, and start a recovery plan.

How Harmful are They?

It is near-impossible to find grain, pasture, and hay that is completely mold- and mycotoxin-free. In a 2010 study, German researchers Liesener et al. found at least one type of mycotoxin in each of 62 samples of commercial horse feeds, with many samples having more than one. However, the levels present were well below dangerous. So instead of taking on the impossible task of eliminating mycotoxins, owners should focus their efforts on minimizing their horses’ exposure to these elements.
Fortunately, harmful levels of some mycotoxins are rarely seen. In addition, most horses will avoid moldy (and potentially mycotoxin-containing) forages because they are not palatable. The molds and mycotoxins found in grains, however, often do not affect palatability, so nutritionists and veterinarians find these the most concerning. It is also important to realize, says Hawkins, that a feed containing low levels of several different mycotoxins might be just as detrimental to a horse’s health and performance as a single mycotoxin at a “toxic” level. Some problems stemming from mycotoxin consumption are acute (immediate), while others are chronic (long-term). It all depends on the type and amount of mycotoxin the horse ingests.
Other factors that affect toxin response include age, workload, stress level, nutritional status, and immune status. A healthy adult show horse or broodmare that consumes a diet with low to moderate mycotoxin levels over a long time might exhibit clinical signs such as decreased athletic performance and/or breeding capability with no other observable issues.
Other general signs include appetite loss, weight loss, unthriftiness, respiratory issues, increased susceptibility to infectious diseases (poor immune function), and poor growth rate.

Read the rest of the article here

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