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5 Tips For Addressing Weight Loss In The Horse
Nothing is more upsetting than watching your horse slowly lose weight day after day and not knowing why. Despite being sure they have plenty of access to good quality food and mineral/vitamin supplements, they continue to lose weight. Here are 5 tips that can get you started on the right path to addressing sudden weight loss in your horse.
First and foremost, ALWAYS have your horse evaluated by a vet if they are experiencing any type of health challenge! I cannot stress this enough. There are so many things that can affect your horse’s ability to absorb nutrients, from parasites to cancer. Your vet can rule things out for you and make a proper diagnosis if there is a serious medical condition that is contributing to a weight loss issue in your horse. I have seen many times people who wait and see attitude to the detriment of the horse.
A very common reason for horses to lose weight is due to a heavy parasite load. As parasites develop resistance to many of the commercially available dewormers, you may find that your deworming protocols are no longer effective. Your veterinary clinic can do a fecal egg count for you and let you know what type of intestinal parasites (if any) your horse may be harboring. From this information, you can then make more targeted decisions about which deworming protocols may be most effective for your situation.
There are also alternative protocols that are becoming increasingly popular among horse keepers. Many of these are safe to use in conjunction with traditional deworming and can help increase the effectiveness of your deworming program.
Some of these include:
- Food grade diatomaceous earth – diatomaceous earth is thought to work similarly when moving through the animal’s digestive tract as it does when applied externally to insects. The microscopic fossils of silica-based diatoms that make up the fine dust penetrate the insects’ exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate and die.
- Essential Oils – Animals in the wild will hunt and eat certain types of plants that are not normally in their daily diet to help rid their bodies of parasites. Some medicinal grade essential oils are thought to help rid the body of internal parasites based on the historical use of these plants by both ancient cultures and wildlife. It is unclear whether these help by boosting the host’s natural immune system or by acting directly against the parasite. The oils that can help the most are – Tarragon, Ocotea, Di-Gize and Longevity.
- Complementing the immune system – an organism that has a compromised immune system will be more susceptible to all kinds of infections, including that of internal and external parasites. Adding supplements that are rich in antioxidants can help your horse’s ability to deal with these attacks naturally. Immune support is very important for the maintenance of the geriatric horse.
I have been surprised by the number of people I have encountered over the years who are unaware that horses need routine dental care. There are many factors that play into the function of the horse’s jaw and how the horse’s teeth are constantly erupted and worn down. The way a horse moves, the position it eats, what it eats, etc. all contribute to whether a horse will develop dental imbalance. If the teeth are out of balance and the horse cannot chew their food effectively, they are less likely to be able to absorb the necessary nutrients from that food. Older horses may have worn out the life of their teeth or have lost teeth, also contributing to problems with proper processing of their feed. Having your horse checked by a reputable equine dentist at least once or twice a year can save your horse some grief down the road.
Your horse’s weight loss may just be a simple matter of math… they burn more calories than they take in. It may be necessary to freeze your horse’s hay and/or feed, especially for horses in heavy training or working horses. However, adding a high-quality, high-calorie fat source may be all it takes to turn the tide. Traditionally people have added corn oil to their horses’ feed as a top dressing. However, since corn oil is not completely digestible, you must feed large amounts for it to be effective, and many horses do not find that much oil in their feed palatable. The most popular oils that are highly digestible, delicious, and provide added benefits to the skin and hair coat are flaxseed, soybean, and wheat germ oils.
When dealing with geriatric horses, the ability to chew becomes more and more problematic, not to mention an aging digestive tract that becomes less efficient and able to pull needed nutrients from what they can chew. Adding some more easily chewed and digestible forage can help. However, you’ll want to be sure and check with your vet before changing your horse’s diet. Certain conditions, such as liver and kidney dysfunction, require special dietary consideration.
Alfalfa – For all my older birds, we offer soaked alfalfa cubes once a day in addition to access to coastal hay and light free-choice grazing. In cube form, the alfalfa is already chopped and soaking helps soften the forage for easy chewing. It also has a higher protein and calcium content that helps support those aging muscles and bones.
Beet pulp – Soaked beet pulp is also a very popular fodder alternative. It is very rich in calcium and very easily digested. Most horses find it quite palatable and easy to eat, even horses with no teeth at all!
Replenish senior supplies – There are a number of high quality complete resources available in the market these days. Many can even be soaked for easy digestion for horses that are toothless or have trouble chewing. When I look for a food for seniors, I usually try to avoid those that have a lot of sugars (usually molasses). I prefer feeds based on alfalfa meal so I know exactly what my horse is getting. I avoid the ones that have them "hay byproduct" as the first ingredient listed. Feed consistency cannot be guaranteed when they can use almost anything that is considered hay. If they list alfalfa meal on the label, then I know they MUST use alfalfa, nothing else.
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