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What To Feed Horses To Gain Weight
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Tips & Tricks: How To Help Senior Horses Gain Weight
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“My horse turned on the super boost. Within a week we saw a significant difference. Mostly because of his attitude, but his weight started to pile on. We had a “new” horse in 3 weeks!” Looking for the best strategy to gain weight on a skinny horse? Maybe your horse has been losing weight slowly for months, or maybe you purchased an underweight horse due to negligence.
Helping your thin horse gain weight may be as simple as gradually increasing your horse’s feed intake, or it may require a multi-pronged solution that includes treating your horse’s disease, reducing parasite burden, adding weight gain supplements such as rice bran and / or implies a change. The environment of the horse.
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While it may be tempting to “ask online” on horse-related social media platforms, the wise approach is to begin a nutrition and health plan for your lean horse that includes consultation with a veterinarian and equine nutritionist.
One of the most common methods of evaluating equine body condition to determine if your horse is underweight is to use the Heinecke body condition score.
The Heineke scale is a system for assessing the body condition of horses. Don Haneke, Ph.D., created the scales in 1979 as part of his equine research at Texas A&M University. The scale scores a horse from 1 to 9 based on the amount of body fat present in six locations: neck, ribs, loin, withers, tip of tail and back of shoulder. For example, 1 = bad and 9 = very thick. A score of 5 is optimal for most disciplines and species, although a normal range can be anywhere from 4 to 6.
Although a body score of 4 is within the normal range for an adult horse, the horse’s activity level, age and reproductive status should be considered first when determining the optimal body score.
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For example, in young growing horses, field and clinical results show that excess weight can lead to bone deformities, especially if the horse is genetically predisposed to developing orthopedic conditions. Maintaining a body condition score of 5 will help protect a young, healthy horse from unnecessary fat that can be harmful to bone development.
It is recommended that breeding mares maintain a body condition score between 6 and 7.5 during the transition to the breeding season and throughout pregnancy.
Horses with a score of 3 or less are considered thin and underweight. In cases of severe neglect and/or poor health, it is recommended to work with an equine nutritionist and/or veterinarian to develop a balanced and safe feeding plan.
To monitor changes in the horse’s weight, run your hand over the horse’s side from time to time to feel the “cover” on the ribs. This is especially important for horses with thick hair because long hair can give the illusion that the horse is overweight.
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Determining the “why” of your horse’s weight loss is key to making the best health and nutritional decisions to get your horse back to normal weight. Horses can lose weight for reasons that include both psychological and physical components.
There are many factors that can contribute to a horse’s weight loss, and each situation is unique to the horse’s age, health, and environment.
Studies show that ulcers occur in 60-90 percent of adult horses and 25-50 percent of foals, depending on performance, age and population.
Clinical signs of ulcers in horses include, but are not limited to: poor appetite, weight loss, and lack of food. Forage deficiency has also been documented to cause ulcers.
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Given the equine ulcer research statistics and the clinical signs of equine ulcers, one of the cornerstones of restoring your thin horse to a healthy weight may be determining whether the horse has an ulcer and, if so, implementing an ulcer treatment and management plan. This plan may include starting a prescription medication to help heal the horse’s ulcer and consulting with your veterinarian about adding nutritional supplements to support your horse’s gastrointestinal function.
Your equine veterinarian may recommend a gastroscopic examination to definitively diagnose your horse’s ulcer and prescribe the most appropriate treatment.
A peptic ulcer can also be diagnosed preemptively, where your veterinarian may decide to skip a gastroscopic exam, start an ulcer medication, and observe the horse’s response to treatment.
As a horse ages, its digestive system may not function well enough to absorb nutrients efficiently. A veterinarian and/or equine nutritionist may recommend switching your horse to a more easily digestible senior ration and/or adding nutritional supplements to improve feed utilization.
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There are many diseases that can be a factor in horse weight loss. For example, a horse in the early stages of pituitary intermediate dysfunction (PPID) will have significantly elevated levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). PPID can cause a hairline and weight loss if left untreated. Horses with untreated PPID are also at increased risk of developing laminitis and insulin resistance.
In addition, infectious diseases such as sore throat, pneumonia, etc. can cause the horse to become emaciated and lose weight.
The stress caused by rheumatic pain can suppress a horse’s appetite and cause weight loss. Because of pain, it can be difficult for a horse to cover enough pasture to get enough forage to support its weight.
Strategies your veterinarian may recommend to reduce arthritis pain include nutritional supplements, joint injections, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture treatments, ointments, shock wave therapy, and/or prescription pain medications.
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In cases of chronic foot pain, such as navicular syndrome, your veterinarian and/or farrier may recommend foot or shoe trimming strategies that can relieve and reduce pain.
If a horse has problems with his teeth or gums, he may reduce his feed intake, resulting in significant weight loss. A chipped, infected or fractured tooth can be so painful that it can prevent a horse from properly chewing its food.
Some signs that a horse may have dental problems include “bitterness” – partially chewed food, bad breath, discomfort or “clumsiness” when riding.
It is recommended that horses be examined by a dentist annually or every 6 months in the case of previous dental problems and in the case of older horses. Regular dental checkups can help catch any developing problems before the horse loses weight or develops other health problems.
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It is important to note that when a horse reaches old age, its teeth may recede to such an extent that it cannot adequately chew hay or roughage. At this point, he will need to switch to a more digestible food such as senior food, soaked hay cubes or pellets, and/or soaked beet pulp to maintain a healthy weight.
Equine parasite control is another key component in helping your underweight horse return to normal weight.
Internal parasites can wreak havoc on your horse’s health and can also significantly affect your horse’s weight loss. It is important to work with your equine veterinarian to develop a parasite control plan.
Internal parasites can cause reduced resistance to infection, permanent damage to internal organs, and take away essential nutrients from your horse’s feed.
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Additional note: When a horse heavily infested with parasites is treated with dewormers, it can cause symptoms of colic. Colic is caused by ingesting dead worms that pass through the horse’s digestive system.
It is extremely important to monitor your horse after deworming and seek immediate veterinary attention if colic symptoms appear.
Like humans, some horses have fast metabolisms and need more forage in their diet to maintain a healthy weight. In other words, they are not “light keepers” of horses that mostly require a small amount of feed to maintain a normal weight.
A horse can be of low social status
Weight Gain & Nutrition
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