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5 Tips For Addressing Weight Loss In The Horse
Nothing is more worrying than watching your horse slowly lose weight day after day and not knowing the reason. Despite having plenty of access to good quality feed and mineral/vitamin supplements, they continue to lose weight. Here are 5 tips that can get you started on the right path to dealing with unexpected weight loss in the horse.
First and foremost, ALWAYS have your horse evaluated by your vet if it encounters any kind of health challenge! I can’t stress that 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 contributing to a weight loss problem in your horse. I have seen too many times people’s wait and see attitude to the detriment of the horse.
A very common reason for horses to lose weight is due to a large parasite load. As parasites develop resistance to many of the commercial dewormers available on the market, you may find that your deworming treatments are no longer effective. Your veterinary clinic can do a faecal egg count for you and tell you what types 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 in your situation.
There are also alternative protocols that are becoming more and more popular among horse keepers. Many of these are safe to use in conjunction with traditional deworming treatments and can help increase the effectiveness of your deworming program.
Some of these include:
- Food grade diatomaceous earth – it is believed that diatomaceous earth works in the same way when it travels through the animal’s digestive tract as it does when applied externally to insects. The microscopic silica-based diatom fossils that make up the fine powder 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 cleanse their bodies of parasites. Certain medicinal grade essential oils are believed to help rid the body of internal parasites based on the historical use of these plants by both ancient cultures and wild animals. Whether these help by boosting the host’s natural immune system or act directly against the parasite is unclear. Oils that can help most are – Tarragon, Ocotea, Di-Gize and Longevity.
- Immune system supplementation – an organism that has a compromised immune system will be more susceptible to all types of infections, including internal and external parasites. Adding supplements high in antioxidants can help your horse’s ability to deal with these attacks naturally. Immune support is very important in maintaining the geriatric horse.
Dental care of horses
I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve met over the years who don’t realize 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 erupt and wear constantly. The way a horse moves, places 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 effectively chew their feed, they are less likely to be able to absorb the necessary nutrients from that feed. Older horses may have worn out the life of their teeth or have missing teeth, which also contributes 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 are burning more calories than they are consuming. It may be necessary to increase your horse’s hay and/or forage, especially for horses in heavy training or working horses. But adding a high-calorie, high-quality fat source may be all it takes to turn the corner. Traditionally, people have added corn oil to their horses’ feed as a top dressing. But since corn oil is not fully digestible, you have to give large amounts for it to be effective, and many horses do not find so much oil in the feed palatable. The most popular oils that are highly digestible, tasty and provide additional benefits for the skin and coat are – linseed, soybean and wheat germ oils.
When dealing with geriatric horses, the ability to chew becomes increasingly problematic, not to mention the aging digestive tract becomes less efficient and able to pull the necessary nutrients from what they can chew. Adding some more easily chewable and digestible food can help. However, you want to be sure and consult with your veterinarian before changing your horse’s diet. Certain conditions, such as liver and kidney dysfunction, require special dietary considerations.
Alfalfa – To all my older breeding mares, we give soaked alfalfa cubes once a day, in addition to having access to free-choice coastal hay and light grazing. In the cube form, the alfalfa is already chopped, and the soaking helps to soften the feed, so it is easy to chew. It also has a higher protein and calcium content, which helps support aging muscles and bones.
Beet pulp – Soaked beet pulp is also a very popular feed alternative. It is very high in calcium and very easily digestible. Most horses find it quite tasty and easy to eat, even horses with no teeth at all!
Complete senior feeds – There are a number of high quality senior foods on the market these days. Many of these can even be soaked for easy digestion for horses that are toothless or have trouble chewing. When looking for a senior food, I typically try to avoid those that have a lot of sugar (typically molasses). I prefer feed that is based on alfalfa meal, so I know exactly what my horse is getting. I avoid those who have "hay byproduct" as the first ingredient on the list. The consistency of the feed cannot be guaranteed when they can basically use 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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