Clinical nutrition counselling service in the veterinary hospital: retrospective analysis of equine patients and nutritional considerations

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Meeting the nutritional needs of healthy animals is fundamental to guarantee their well‐being and athletic performance (Becvarova et al., 2009; Roberts and Murray, 2014); moreover, dietary recommendations play an important role in the care and treatment of certain pathological conditions. However, even though a growing body of evidence demonstrates the consequences of erroneous nutritional practice (e.g. diets too rich in high‐starch cereal grains, Richards et al., 2006; long intervals between feedings, Luthersson et al., 2009b; and the correlated rising incidence of nutrition‐related problems [e.g. equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS), equine metabolic syndrome, obesity and laminitis], Luthersson et al., 2009b; Frank, 2011; Becvarova and Pleasant, 2012), inappropriate feeding regimes continue to be used (Roberts and Murray, 2014).
This could be due to deep‐rooted traditions in feeding practices (Harris, 1999) or a lack of knowledge of nutrition among horse owners or even among veterinarians. A high percentage of veterinarians, although considered by horse owners to be the primary source of information on nutrition, often do not feel they are sufficiently prepared about this topic (Hoffman et al., 2009; Roberts and Murray, 2014; Becvarova et al., 2015). Furthermore, peer‐reviewed reports on nutrition‐related problems in horses are scarce and the majority of the papers available are not entirely focused on nutritional issues, but to the related pathologies. For example, some papers discuss general management and clinical conditions of a particular horse category, like old horses (Ireland et al., 2011a,b), underweight horses (Metcalfe et al., 2013), obese horses (Vick et al., 2007; Bamford et al., 2016; Giles et al., 2015), EGUS (Murray et al., 1996; Luthersson et al., 2009a; Reese and Andrews, 2009; Sykes et al., 2015) or poisoning caused by the consumption of toxic plants (Aboling et al., 2016, Caloni and Cortinovis, 2015; Valle et al., 2016).
In this context, the specialized advice provided by a clinical nutrition counselling (CNC) service is fundamental. A CNC service can assist horse owners and practitioners in designing proper diets for the animals according to their requirements and underlying pathologies; a CNC database could also become a useful instrument for retrospectively obtaining a clear outline of the biggest problems linked to nutrition in the equine population.
To the best of our knowledge, no previous reports offer information on anamnestic data, diet and the follow‐up of equine patients referred to a CNC service. The aim of this study was to provide information on equine patients referred to our CNC service and to determine their characteristics (age, breed, sex, BCS) and their nutritional assessment. In particular, we performed a retrospective analysis of the anamnestic data, diet and follow‐up of the patients to investigate the most frequent reasons why nutritional counselling is required. For the most common nutrition‐related pathologies, we also provide the standard dietary protocols used in our Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
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