CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS FOR WEIGHT LOSS IN HORSES.


Valerie De Clerck, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine




"Animal abuse!", "Does he get enough food?", ... 

Can you imagine the haters?


If your horse is too skinny, you are not alone! Nearly 16% of geriatric horses and 6% of mature horses is underweight or too skinny. The cause of weight loss is not always easy to identify, but that does not mean that you should not act. Severe weight loss can be dangerous and life-threatening and it is therefore important to contact your veterinarian and nutritionist when your horse is too skinny. In this article, we list the most important causes and possible solutions for weight loss in horses.

IS MY HORSE TOO SKINNY?


You can determine whether your horse is in good shape by using the Body Condition Score Tool


The Body Condition Score (BCS) is a way to visually assess the amount of fat and muscles of your horse. The BCS ranges from 1 to 9, with 5 being the ideal score, 1 being extremely skinny and 9 extremely fat.

IF YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THE RIBS OF YOUR HORSE THAN YOUR HORSE IS TOO SKINNY. IDEALLY, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FEEL THE RIBS, BUT NOT SEE THEM.



WHY IS MY HORSE OR PONY LOSING WEIGHT?


The most common causes of weight loss in horses and ponies are anorexia, higher energy requirements, malnutrition, malabsorption and parasites.



1.Your horse refuses to eat (anorexia)


This usually occurs when the horse is sick or in pain. You should contact your veterinarian if your horse did not eat anything for 48 hours. Anorexia can arise from many different causes and it is important to investigate this further with your veterinarian. Horses have very sensitive intestines, so don't wait too long. 


It is also important to check the teeth of your horse on a regular base (once or twice per year) to ensure that the anorexia is not caused by any dental issues. A typical sign of dental problems is quidding, dropping of partially chewed food, and the presence of chewed-up balls of forage and grass on the ground.

2.Higher energy requirement


When your horse uses more energy than he takes in through his diet, he will lose weight. Various physiological and pathological conditions can lead to a higher energy requirement.


• Sport horses:  the more a horse exercises, the more energy it needs. On average a trained horse needs 15% more energy than an untrained horse.


• Pregnant and lactating mares:  in the last three months of gestation, the energy requirement of the mare increases by 35% and during lactation it even doubles!


• Senior horses: in older horses, the ability to digest and absorb nutrients declines and as a result the daily dietary energy requirement increases.


• Horses recovering from surgery or illness: 10% extra energy is needed to recover from surgery and up to 60% extra energy is required to recover from a serious illness or infection.


• Extreme weather conditions: the ideal ambient temperature for a horse is between -5°C and 15°C. The horse needs extra energy when the temperature falls below -5°C or increases above 15°C. A rule of thumb is a 2,5% increase in dietary energy requirement for every degree above 15°C or below -5°C. 


3.Malnutrition


When your horse is eating enough, but the quality of the food is poor and does not meet the energy requirement of the horse, your horse will lose weight.


4.Malabsorption


Your horse is eating enough and the quality of the food is good, but the nutrients are not properly digested and absorbed in the intestines. The cause of malabsorption is often inflammation of the intestines.


5.Parasites


Worms in the intestines eat the nutrients that your horse needs and they cause inflammation of the intestines.



WHAT TO DO WHEN MY HORSE IS TOO SKINNY OR UNDERWEIGHT?


1. Treat the underlying disease, problems and get rid of parasites


It is important to always consult your veterinarian when your horse is underweight. If the weight loss is caused by an underlying disease or parasites, your veterinarian will first have to treat your horse for these pathologies. It is also important to check the teeth of your horse.


2. Analyse and adapt the diet of your horse


Once the underlying causes have been treated or ruled out, it is important to analyse the diet of your horse and adapt the feeding program to the needs of your horse. You can contact Ghent University for a detailed analysis or you can use the following website to estimate the concentration of different nutrients in hay, grain and/or pasture diets.


As mentioned above, some horses have a higher dietary energy requirement. Often these horses are fed a higher quantity of cereal grains, which contain high levels of sugar. Feeding too much sugar is a risk factor for the development of gastrointestinal problems, such as colic, and related pathologies such as laminitis. It is better to supplement your horse with vegetable oils, which also has a positive effect on performance.


BENEFITS OF FAT SUPPLEMENTATION

1. Lower heat production during exercise and less sweating

2. Reduction in breathing effort and therefore faster recovery

3. Glucose-sparing effect during exercise. This means that the muscles are using fat as the main energy source, leaving glucose (sugar) for the brain. This improves the focus of the horse.

Extra energy and rich in the best plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (DHA from microalgae). Omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on gut health, especially after worm infestation or other inflammation.


100% vegan and fish-oil free!



SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES


1. Ireland JL, McGowan CM, Clegg PD, Chandler KJ, Pinchbeck GL. A survey of health care and disease in geriatric horses aged 30years or older. Vet J. 2012;192(1):57-64. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2011.03.021
2. Ireland JL, Clegg PD, Mcgowan CM, Mckane SA, Chandler KJ, Pinchbeck GL. Disease prevalence in geriatric horses in the United Kingdom: Veterinary clinical assessment of 200 cases. Equine Vet J. 2012;44(1):101-106. doi:10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00361.x
3. Jensen RB, Danielsen SH, Tauson AH. Body condition score, morphometric measurements and estimation of body weight in mature Icelandic horses in Denmark. Acta Vet Scand. 2016;58(1):19-23. doi:10.1186/s13028-016-0240-5
4. Smith BP. Large Animal Internal Medicine. 4th editio. Elsevier; 2009. 
5. Warren LK. The Skinny on Feeding Fat to Horses. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004
6. Delobel A, Fabry C, Schoonheere N, Istasse L, Hornick JL. Linseed oil supplementation in diet for horses: Effects on palatability and digestibility. Livest Sci. 2008;116(1-3):15-21. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2007.07.016
7. Vervuert I, Klein S, Coenen M. Short-term effects of a moderate fish oil or soybean oil supplementation on postprandial glucose and insulin responses in healthy horses. Vet J. 2010;184(2):162-166. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.01.013
8. Mélo SKM, Diniz AIA, de Lira VL, et al. Antioxidant and haematological biomarkers in different groups of horses supplemented with polyunsaturated oil and vitamin E. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2016;100(5):852-859. doi:10.1111/jpn.12456
9. Cordeiro H, Filho M, Hunka MM, Souza LA De, Emília H, Cordeiro C. Use of oil-rich diet for gaited horses during physical training Over the last few decades , the increasing popularity of equestrian sports such as endurance and pacer riding events has led to changes in dietary standards for these athletes , in terms of b. Acta Vet BRNO. 2019;88:25-31.

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