The liver is an organ that performs numerous functions, including metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It also breaks down and excretes many potentially toxic compounds. The liver has a large storage capacity and functional reserve and is capable of regenerating, which provides some protection against permanent damage.
When liver cells die, they are removed by inflammatory cells and replaced with either new liver cells or fibrous tissue. Early liver fibrosis may be reversible if recognized and treated promptly. Long-term disease with extensive loss of functioning liver tissue and the development of fibrosis is a grave sign and the outlook for recovery is poor.


There are several causes including toxic, infectious, metabolic and obstruction. It is rare for these to lead to complete liver failure.

Toxic causes include:

  • Pyrrolizidine alkaloid toxicosis - The plants most often implicated are ragwort, woolly groundsel, rattleweed and seeds of yellow tarweed.
  • Alsike Clover
  • Panicum Grasses
  • Mycotoxins
  • Blue-green algae

Infectious causes include:

  • Cholangiohepatitis
  • Tysser’s Disease

Metabolic causes include:

  • Hepatic lipidosis
  • Hyperammoninemia

Obstructive causes include:

  • Biliary stones
  • Right dorsal colon displacement
  • Foals with duodenal ulcers
  • Hepatic torsion
  • Portal vein thrombosis

Horses with liver disorder may display weight loss, photosensitivity, colic, dark colored urine, itchy skin, gastrointestinal impaction, increased ammonia production.


  • A low protein (high branch chain-low aromatic amino acid ratio) diet should be fed.
  • Do not feed fat supplements
  • Multiple small meals should be fed every 2-4 hrs. to prevent ammonia surges
  • Readily available soluble carbohydrates are essential (high starch)
  • Steam flaked corn, beet pulp and wheat bran contain the correct amino acid ratio
  • Vitamin and mineral supplement including B vitamin and vitamin C
  • Avoid - Legume hays, oats, and soybeans because of high levels of aromatic AA’s
  • Plenty of clean fresh water
  • Swallowing may be difficult so creating a mash is ideal

Poulin Grain’s DECADE™ STABLE SWEET TRADITION™ contains ultra steam flaked corn and beet pulp and has a low fat content. Feed along with a grass hay.


Contact your Poulin Grain Feed Specialist to test your hay quality and build a diet for your horse. | 800.334.6731