"Unexplained" Weight Loss in Horses – Ask a Farrinarian
Dr. Brian Eitelman, DVM, CJF, and Aggie Vet and Farrier Services provide veterinarian and farrier services in Parker, CO, Elizabeth, CO, Franktown, CO, Castle Rock, CO and Sedalia, CO. To learn more, please visit us at www.vetandfarrier.com
In this video, Dr. Brian discusses the common issue of unexplained weight loss or lack of weight gain in horses.
Unexplained Weight Loss and/or Lack of Weight Gain
– Start with thorough investigation
– Are they actually being fed what you think they’re being fed?
– Miscommunication/Misunderstanding b/w owner, management, barn crew
– How many lbs? How many flakes? How big is a flake?
– What is the consistency in measurement day to day, feeding to feeding?
– Are they actually eating what they’re fed?
– Using it as a bed? Eating only the tastiest parts and letting rest blow away? Neighbor horse stealing it?
– Herd dynamic – Are they being pushed off before finishing?
– Top horse will eat the best parts of everyone’s feed and leave only poorer quality stuff for the lower horses.
– Feed delivery – trough, hay net, slow feeder (tend to be too inefficient as primary feeder; old horses don’t have enough tooth left to use slow feeder)
– Hay analysis – This really is an important step in this process – be intentional, put a name to the problem
– Outside assistance
– Good physical exam including dental exam; what’s the quality of dentition?
– Good dental float by licensed veterinarian or qualified lay dentist under direct veterinary supervision can vastly increase feed efficiency
– Consider bloodwork, fecal analysis, fecal egg count
– For more info on parasite management – pop over and watch video on deworming/husbandry strategies
– High parasite loads more indication of management problem rather than being primary problem; fecal egg counts can be used to help choose appropriate deworming product
– What is the exercise/activity level? Are they being ridden excessively given your overall goals?
– Goals involve heavy workload – don’t expect a heavy horse
– Goals involve work now – expect slower results
Now, before answering the common question of “My horse isn’t gaining weight, what should I feed?”
So, now then, we know they’re being fed the correct amount, we’ve clarified what a flake is with the barn management and they have double checked that both the morning and afternoon feed crews are on the same page.
We’ve arranged to convert to 3-a-day feeding instead of 2 so they eat what they’re fed before it blows away or they’ve peed all through it.
We know this batch of hay is lower in protein than we thought or higher in undigestable fiber than we’d like.
And we had his teeth floated two months ago – it’s helped some but not enough.
Some simple first steps
– get 2nd or 3rd cutting hay ( can read my blog on nutrition – about 10-15 minute read and explains differences in cuttings plus lots of other info on nutrition) www.vetandfarrier.com/blog
– buy hay in as large amount as is reasonably possible – more consistent than buying 5-10 bales of whatever feed store has in stock
– Chaffe hay – partially fermented, highly digestable hay – high moisture content makes for management issue in winter
– alfalfa or grass pellets
– senior feed – complete ration
– all of these are good steps because they’re well-rounded and offer more energy per pound
– I get asked about the following product a lot, and I’m going to answer the question honestly and be straightforward with you – beet pulp
– It’s the nutritional equivalent of cardboard. It’s the horse version of rice cakes. It is empty bulk and only fills a fiber role.
– Beet pulp 100% impedes weight gain AND is a huge choking hazard.
– Unless you have the horse that is a fraction of a percent of the population that has no teeth left and can only gum down senior feed, there is absolutely no reason to feed beet pulp.
– Reevaluate exercise level
-Time tested for weight loss: eat less and exercise more
-Switch that for weight gain: exercise less and eat more
– Don’t ride/work hard every day and expect much weight gain – it’s not how horses work (again, check out nutrition blog for more info)
In summary, do a thorough investigation – not trying to point fingers, but honestly just find the holes in the system where improvements can be made. Have a good physical exam performed. Rethink their lifestyle/workload.
Bottom line: Put a name to the problem so you can intelligently go about solving it.
Why is my horse losing weight? How much hay should I feed my horse? How many pounds of hay should a horse eat? When does my horse need a dental float? When does my horse need its teeth floated? How fast should a horse gain weight? Why won’t my horse gain weight? Why is my horse skinny? Why is my horse too thin?
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