I’ve said it plenty of times: caring for a horse requires work and know-how. Apart from making sure our horses have shelter, food, and water, we need to keep an eye on their overall health, fitness, and body condition. As far as having a normal weight goes, some horses can be incredibly difficult keepers.
Some of them will have difficulties putting on weight or keeping a normal weight. It’s up to figure out what’s causing the weight loss, and what we can do to help our horses get back to normal.
Weight loss in horses can be influenced by several factors such as:
- Traumatic events causing a reluctance to eat.
- A poor eating environment.
- Poor food quality and a bad feeding program.
- Bad teeth.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
- Various diseases.
Up next, we’re going to have a look at a few steps that we can take to help our horses gain weight safely and healthily.
Look for signs of past trauma.
The first thing you can do to figure out why your horse is not gaining weight is to inquire about its past. This step is incredibly important if you bought the horse from someone else, or weren’t particularly involved in its upbringing. Horses are kind and sensitive creatures – they’re influenced by our emotions, and they take things to heart.
A mismanaged horse or a traumatized horse will have a difficult time eating properly and gaining weight, particularly if its trauma is food-related. Anxiety can also play a part here, especially separation anxiety. If a horse has been separated from another horse or from a handler that it has bonded with, this may cause various problems including eating disorders.
What can you do about it? Figure out exactly what your horse’s favorite food is and ensure that it meets its nutritional needs. You can also use various treats to help your horse gain weight, but that’s not the healthy way to go in my opinion.
If the horse has anxiety or stress issues, come up with a training regimen that will keep its mind busy while not stressing the body too much. Reward good behavior, treat your horse with kindness, and the results will show in due time.
Check the horse’s environment.
In order to lead a happy and healthy life, a horse needs a safe and clean environment. If the horse is dissatisfied with its stable conditions, or the cleanliness of its food tray, it might refuse to eat as much as it would normally do, or even avoid food altogether. Cleaning up a horse’s stable is a chore but a very important one.
Horses don’t like to live in dirty, damp, and crowded spaces. This impacts their emotional health, albeit not immediately. A horse would have to live in poor conditions for a while before it might refuse to eat or start to misbehave. That being said, it’s always a good idea to make sure that your horse has plenty of space, plenty of good food, and maybe even a few distractions to keep its mind occupied.
Analyze the feeding program/food quality.
Your horse needs a disciplined feeding program adapted to its lifestyle. Horses that train for competitions or races will need a different kind of food than a regular draft horse or a horse kept purely for pleasure riding. You need to come up with that feeding program and stick to it.
Variations in the program or variations in the food itself could cause the horse to lose weight rapidly. Horses can and will adapt to new situations, but they will prefer a habitual lifestyle when it comes to feeding and exercising. Food quality is one of the main factors that can cause weight loss in horses.
Horses that have difficulty in keeping weight will often start eating but will stop after a short while because they just don’t like the food. They might think that something’s wrong with the food, or they might pick up on the presence of supplements.
Check for parasites.
Parasites are quite common in horses. Many times, they don’t pose a serious threat, but if their numbers get out of hand, they can cause a horse to lose weight and even to become seriously ill in some cases. There are more than 100 types of parasites that infect horses. You’re probably not a vet, so nobody’s expecting you to know all of them. However, you can remember the most common ones and the symptoms they cause.
Some of the most common horse parasites include Tapeworms, Roundworms, Threadworms, Lungworms, Pinworms, Bloodworms, and Stomach Bots. The most common indicators of parasitic infestation include colic, weight loss, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, anemia, enlarged belly, breathing issues, and a lack of appetite.
No matter the parasite and its effects on your horse, it’s always advisable to have a vet perform a complete checkup. Then, he or she can come up with a treatment plan that will eliminate the pesky creatures. Do not attempt to come up with this treatment plan yourself, as you might risk damaging the horse’s health even further.
Make sure your horse has healthy teeth.
It goes without saying that horses need strong and healthy teeth in order to eat properly. This ties into weight loss in a number of ways. First of all, if a horse has any kind of oral health issues, it will be less inclined to consume food simply because it causes discomfort. If your horse is losing a lot of weight, it’s definitely a good idea to check its mouth for ulcers and to determine whether its teeth are in good condition.
Secondly, horses need to chew their food properly in order to make the most out of it. If a horse swallows its food whole, its digestive system won’t be able to extract all of the nutrients from that food. Therefore, the horse won’t take advantage of as many calories. As horses get older, their teeth wear down gradually, and some of them even require teeth floating procedures.
Some of the most common issues with a horse’s teeth are signaled by bad breath, nasal discharge, face swelling, and a general disinterest in eating.
Weight loss due to gastrointestinal issues.
One of the most common gastrointestinal issues affecting horses is gastric ulcer. This represents a deterioration in the horse’s stomach lining, and it’s particularly difficult to detect because the symptoms are often subtle.
This condition affects humans as well, and one of its primary triggers is stress. A stressed horse or one that isn’t allowed out of its stall for extended periods will have a much higher chance of developing gastric ulcers.
Some of the signs you can watch out for include a particularly sensitive stomach area, grinding of the teeth, a thinning coat, disinterest in eating, and of course, weight loss.
Make sure your horse doesn’t have a disease.
There are various diseases that can cause a horse to lose weight. While I’d always recommend seeking the advice of a veterinarian in these cases, I do think it’s important for you to know which diseases can cause a horse to lose weight rapidly. The most common ones are Cushing’s disease, cancer, liver and kidney failures, as well as EGUS and EPM.
Just like many other mammals, horses lose weight when they’re sick, so if you ruled out all of the aforementioned causes, make sure to call your vet immediately and schedule a checkup.
If your horse is losing weight, there’s definitely a good reason behind it. If it’s something as simple as not eating enough or bad food quality, you can fix these issues yourself without too much effort. Past trauma can be overcome, and a correct feeding schedule can be implemented to meet your horse’s needs.
However, if your horse has a medical problem, it’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian. As a horse owner and caretaker, you should learn as much as you can about problems that can affect a horse’s health. This will help you better understand the vet’s point of view, and it will give you the confidence to follow his advice and treatment plan.