Thin horses’ provide the challenge of identifying why they are thin.
There are countless reasons that a horse may be under weight, today we are going to start the discussion of the most common causes of poor condition.
I cannot stress enough the importance of including your veterinarian in this process.
Chronically thin horses or horses that lose weight suddenly are in a compromised state of health.
Getting to the bottom of the underlying health issues will be less costly in the long run.
If you acquire a new horse that is extremely thin, your first step should be to have a complete veterinary exam to assess this horse’s health. In the case of a rescue horse, please remember that feeding a horse that has been deprived of food is a very delicate process that is best managed by a veterinarian; they can guide you through the best way to be successful and safe.
Ultimately, a thin horse is consuming or absorbing less calories than they are using in their daily lives. To understand why a horse is losing weight or has lost weight it takes a little more detective work to identify the cause of their poor condition. Dental issues, parasites, poor nutrition, excessive exercise, temperament and age are the most common causes.
Just as we see our dentist every year for a check-up, so should our horses. Dental issues in our horses cause problems in two ways. They make efficient digestion difficult because the horse doesn’t break down the food enough in the initial stages of digestion or they cause pain and discomfort which may discourage the horse from eating all together. The culprit causing these problems may include abscesses, loose teeth, infected teeth or pointy hooks on the molars.
A horse that is reluctant to eat, does not finish its food, or eats slowly should be cause for concern. Quidding is the term for when a horse drops partially chewed food out of their mouths and is considered a symptom of dental concerns. Horses that chew uncomfortably, with their mouths open or turn their heads to the side are also suspicious. Excessive salivation while eating, bad breath, or unusual swelling in the jaw areas are also common symptoms. For riding horses, any change in behavior under saddle (including bucking, rearing, tilting of the head and refusal to accept contact) could indicate dental problems.
Internal parasites can cause a horse to lose condition. All horses are exposed to these parasites. They damage the horse by sucking blood and/or nutrients, cause tissue damage during their travels throughout the horse, and obstruct blood vessels and digestive tract. Horses in poor condition are more vulnerable to infestations. Symptoms include weight loss, colic (the equine version of a stomach ache, it can be fatal), lack of appetite, lack of energy, diarrhea, constipation, pot belly, and/or poor coat in any combination.
The simplest and safest way to determine if your horse is carrying an overwhelming parasite load is to have your veterinarian perform a fecal count. Collecting the sample is something that you can do yourself. You will need to collect uncontaminated (by bedding or soil) manure balls in a Ziploc bag. Bringing the horse into the cross ties and collecting from the rubber mats has been the easiest way I’ve found. You can refrigerate the sample for up to a week to preserve the eggs. If unrefrigerated, they will hatch and be uncountable. Based on this count, your veterinarian will be able to suggest an appropriate worming program.
Adequate feed amounts and adequate nutrition are critical factors to the health of your horse and his ability to put on or maintain weight. On average horses require between 2 and 2.5% of their body weight in feed. An average sized 15.2hh horse of average proportions will weigh roughly 1000lbs. This horse should eat 20-25lbs of feed per day. Most of this will be derived from hay or roughage with a maybe little grain or pellets.
Now that we’ve determined the adequate amount criteria, what about adequate nutrition? Are all feeds created equal? No. In previous columns I’ve discussed determining the quality of your feed and here lays its relevance. If the feed doesn’t provide the nutrients you are feeding it for, his diet will be unbalanced, incomplete and your horse will lose condition. Food that is incorrectly stored (hay, grain or supplements) will lose nutrients and become of little feeding value. Feed grown from poor quality soil or not handled/processed properly will also lack nutrition.
Looks like I’ve run out of room, next time we’ll pick up where I’ve left off and discuss the final main factors in poor condition, until next time happy horse keeping!!