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Karen Tappenden Ask Holistic Horse
Old skinny horse
old horse with a young pony companion
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Karen Tappenden; ask Holistic Horse
under weight horse
the back of a skinny horse, an under weight horse
Mature horses who begin to lose weight on an unchanging diet are a puzzle for their owners. It’s not always easy to find the cause of weight loss and correct the problem. An equine nutritionist can suggest changes if the feeding plan needs to be adjusted, while a veterinarian will be the best person to detect a problem with the horse’s health. Sometimes these professionals will work together to solve the dilemma, sorting out various facts that indicate whether the horse is simply not ingesting the proper types or amounts of forage and concentrates, or else is not able to absorb and use nutrients from these feedstuffs.
If the horse is eating well and is still losing weight, a veterinarian may suspect that the problem involves abnormal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
REVIEWING NUTRITION For the equine nutritionist, the first step is to review what the horse is eating each day. Horses who are turned out on poor-quality pasture are likely to lose weight, especially if they are in any type of exercise program. Even when good pasture and hay are available, a significant increase in exercise level or duration may use more calories than the horse is taking in. If grain is being fed, a horse in hard exercise may need more of it to maintain body weight. It’s also possible that the feed product doesn’t contain enough energy for the work the horse is doing. The nutritionist can evaluate the entire feeding program and suggest changes—better hay, more grazing time in good pasture, extra small grain meals, inclusion of energy-dense fat sources—that will help an active horse return to an acceptable body weight.
ASSESSING GENERAL HEALTH If plenty of food is available, the nutritionist or veterinarian can ask the owner about the horse’s general health and herd status. Timid or old horses may not have access to pasture-fed hay, while horses who have recently lost a close friend may be too depressed to eat. Equines with dental problems, gastric ulcers, heavy parasite loads, or chronic pain are also likely candidates for weight loss. Watching the horse eat may reveal more clues to weight loss such as difficulty in grasping, chewing, or swallowing hay or grain. When these conditions are resolved by management and care changes, the weight loss problem should resolve also.
DIGESTION AND METOBOLIC DISORDERS If the horse is eating well and is still losing weight, a veterinarian may suspect that the problem involves abnormal digestion and absorption of nutrients or a defect in the way nutrients are delivered to the body tissues. Intestinal disorders; dysfunctions of the liver, pancreas, or kidneys; and toxic conditions such as chronic low-level ingestion of poisonous plants can all result in weight loss. If the cardiovascular or respiratory systems are not working properly, nutrients and oxygen may not be delivered to all parts of the body, and this can result in horses losing weight.