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J Anim Sci. 1999 Dec;77(12):3330-8.

Dietary carbohydrates and fat influence radiographic bone mineral content of growing foals.

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  • 1Department of Animal Science, University of Connecticut, Storrs 06269-4040, USA.


Hydrolyzable carbohydrate intake in horse diets may become excessive when rapidly growing pastures are supplemented with grain-based concentrates. The substitution of fat and fiber for hydrolyzable carbohydrate in concentrates has been explored in exercising horses but not in young, growing horses. Our objective was to compare bone development in foals that were fed pasture and concentrates rich in sugar and starch (corn, molasses) or fat and fiber (corn oil, beet pulp, soybean hulls, oat straw). Forty foals were examined, 20 each in 1994 and 1995. In each year, 10 mares and their foals were fed a corn and molasses supplement (SS) and 10 others were fed a corn oil and fiber supplement (FF). The concentrates were formulated to be isocaloric and isonitrogenous, and mineral content was balanced to complement the pastures and meet or exceed NRC requirements. Dorsopalmar radiographs were taken of the left third metacarpal monthly from birth to weaning and then every other month until 1 yr of age. Bone density was estimated using imaging software and an aluminum stepwedge. Radiographic examination indicated differences in medial, lateral, and central bone mineral content of the metacarpal III. Bone mineral content increased with age, and a plateau was observed during winter. Bone mineral content was lower in weanlings and yearlings fed the FF supplement than in those fed SS. Subjective clinical leg evaluations indicated differences in physitis, joint effusion, and angular and flexural limb deformities in response to age, and possibly to season. Regression analysis indicated positive relationships between bone mineral content and body weight, age, and body measurements. Nutrient and chemical interactions, such as the binding of calcium by fat and fiber, may alter the availability of elements necessary for bone development.

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