It is generally accepted that prevention is better than cure, but when it comes to certain feed products, claims made about their effectiveness suggest that the product can offer both.
Good feed management — looking at the proportion of forage and concentrate and the make-up of that concentrate — is the best long-term prevention for all sorts of metabolic conditions, such as laminitis, tying up and gastric ulcers. However, other conditions, such as deterioration of bone or respiratory allergies, can develop over time regardless of diet.
This is where the line between prevention and cure gets blurred. From the horse’s point of view, something that either prevents or helps you actively manage its individual susceptibility to a condition is highly desirable. But legislators want to make clear the distinction between medicines and feeds.
Substances that correct shortages in the natural diet, such as a general vitamin and mineral supplement for the pony fed only on hay, or selenium supplementation in areas where the soils are low in this element, are accepted not to be medicinal in any way.
It is those supplements that promise some activity against a condition, commonly described as “nutraceuticals”, that fall in to a grey area because they promise to support adverse conditions but they are not medicines.
Nevertheless, they’re not inexpensive, and it is possible to spend £60-£100 per month on nutritional therapies if you have a horse with more than one problem, such as stiff joints and a dust allergy.
The legislators are quite clear: if a product promises efficacy against disease (and this is done if the disease is mentioned in the same breath as the product name), it is classed as a medicine and must be researched, manufactured and authorised for use as such.
So, while good nutrition is without doubt one of the best preventative remedies around, manufacturers of feeds and supplements are not allowed to mention any adverse condition on the pack, label, in advertising or in leaflets. The only exception is products that relate to laminitis.
Although you will often see “support” and “maintenance” claims on feed and supplement products, owners must be aware that only medicines can truly offer a cure.