Energy sources for the sugar-sensitive horse

Energy sources for the sugar-sensitive horse

Sugar is a hot topic in the horse world. We all know that horses need sugar for fuel as well as for many other bodily processes. But what about when your horse is sensitive to sugar? Every horse needs sugar, because every horse burns energy. How can you tell if your sugar-sensitive horse is still getting enough energy? Read more in this issue of Science Sunday.

Sugar sensitivity in horses

Horses with insulin resistance, sensitive stomach/bowel, or that suffer from laminitis, gastric ulcers or muscular diseases react more sensitively to sugar than “healthy” horses do. An exact diagnosis is not possible with the naked eye. Always consult a vet before making changes to your horse’s feed ration or care.


Starch is a form of sugar and is digested in the small intestine. Because horses aren’t naturally built to consume lots of starch (grains), they can only digest so much of it at a time. If a meal contains lots of sugar and starch, part of it may pass into the large intestine undigested. This can disturb the microbial balance and cause changes to the pH value. And that can cause problems.

Energy sources

As you can see, sensitive horses should get a lot less starch (sugar) per ration. But these horses still need an adequate supply of energy. There are six essential nutrients that horses need: carbohydrates (sugar, starch and fibre), fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. Let’s concentrate for a moment on carbohydrates, as the main function of these nutrients is to supply the body with energy. Fibre is an important energy supplier for all horses, but especially for sensitive horses.

Fibre: can’t get enough

The most important element of the feed ration by far is fibre. Fibre is digested by bacteria in the large intestine, forming volatile fatty acids that serve as energy sources. The caecum and the large intestine then absorb these volatile fatty acids so that they are converted into energy or stored as fat.

Unlike quickly digestible foods, fibre takes time to digest. It delivers an even supply of energy that can be used over a longer period.

Fats in horse feeds

But carbohydrates are not the only important energy suppliers. Fats can also provide additional energy and be an alternative for sugar-sensitive horses. Fats release energy over time and contain more calories than fibre and starch. Sensitive, “hot” or nervous horses can benefit from feed rations where starches are partly replaced by fats.

Puffed grains: a safe source of starch

It is important to consider other energy sources as well. Equine bodies need a certain amount of sugar to function properly – even sensitive ones. Fortunately, there are ways to give them that. “Splitting open” the grains enlarges the contact surface for the amylase, allowing starches to be more easily digested in the small intestine and increasing the non-structural absorption of carbohydrates. This means fewer undigested starches entering the large intestine. The puffing of grains causes a more gradual release of sugar, resulting in fewer high glucose and insulin peaks, and that’s good for sensitive horses.

Many horse owners have questions about sugar in the equine diet. Our Cavalor specialists Caroline Loos (Head of Research and Development) and Fien Demeyere (Feed Specialist), have put together an article addressing frequently asked questions on the topic of sugar.  It answers questions about which feed components contain sugar, the connection between sugar sensitivity and sweet itch, and more. You can read the full article here.

Tips from our experts:

Fibre and fats are the preferred energy sources for safe digestion in sugar-sensitive horses. We’ve listed our products for you here!

Cavalor FiberForce: Cavalor FiberForce is a high-fibre müsli with long fibres for balanced stomach and bowel function. It contains little sugar (5%) and starch (3%). Our scientific study shows that FiberForce doesn’t affect blood sugar and insulin levels, making it safe for horses with metabolic diseases.

Cavalor FiberForce contains a balanced mix of lucerne stalks (8%), teff and beet pulp. More fibre means better digestion and fewer gastrointestinal problems. It also contains pre and probiotics to support gut microbiotica and promote general gut health. With extruded fibre pellets for optimum digestion, no whole grains.
Cavalor WholeGain: Cavalor WholeGain is a high-fat balancer that you mix in with your horse’s feed ration. This müsli contains many plant-based fats and raises the fat content of your horse’s feed. Its energy is released gradually so that the horse can build up strength and endurance. The increased fat content of the feed ration allows the muscles to process glucose more efficiently during anaerobic exercise.

Cavalor OilMega: Cavalor OilMega keeps horses healthy inside and out. It contains Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids along with natural antibiotics for good gut health and extra support for the immune system.

Cavalor OilMega ensures a shiny coat, keeps gut flora in balance and supports the immune system. A feed ration that’s high in healthy fatty acids can also contribute to better athletic performance. For horses trained for endurance or for “hyperactive” horses, energy provided in the form of fat can have positive effects on the supply of energy during training or on the horse’s behaviour.

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