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Underweight Horses

What Is It?

  • Horses that are losing weight during competition are not receiving enough calories, or they may be overly stressed or unsound (experiencing pain or discomfort).
  • Horses with gastric ulcers tend to not want to eat due to pain.Treatment for ulcers should be initiated immediately upon diagnosis or efforts for increasing weight gain will be fruitless.
  • Geriatric horses are in a constant state of muscle catabolism and therefore require higher amounts of quality protein in their diets.

  • Young, growing horses have high energy requirements but care must be taken to balance nutrients and energy to avoid under or over growth in bone and tissue.

  • Parasite infection can lead to weight loss and therefore horses should be maintained on a regular deworming schedule.

  • Access to excellent quality hay and pasture can help keep weight on a hard keeper.

  • Nervous horses tend to fair better when fed feeds low in starch and sugar as blood sugar increases following grain meals and may exacerbate the problem.

  • Lactating broodmares have the highest energy requirements of all categories of horses and must consume approximately 3% of their bodyweight daily to produce milk and maintain condition. Extra care should be taken to avoid starch overload in the lactating mare.

  • Reducing stress and increasing calorie intake are the best ways to help an underweight horse regain weight.

  • Horses that lose weight for no apparent reason should be clinically tested for disease conditions.

Dietary and Management Recommendations

  • Increasing feeding frequency is one of the safest ways to increase feed consumption and calorie intake without increasing risk of starch overload in the hindgut.
  • High fat and soluble fiber feeds work best for putting weight on thin horses.

  • Horses that need to gain weight should be fed products that contain excellent quality protein and guaranteed amino acid levels.

  • The best quality forage should be obtained for feeding thin horses as it is most palatable and has the highest energy content.

  • Direct fed microbials, yeast culture, enzymes and other feed additives that enhance digestion are useful in adding weight to thin horses.

  • Reducing stress and turning horses out is the best therapy for horses that need to gain muscle tone and weight.

  • Maintain a proper dental care routine.

  • Check effectiveness of existing parasite control program and adjust if necessary.


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