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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 why. Despite making sure they have plenty of access to good quality feed and mineral and vitamin supplements, they continue to lose weight. Here are 5 tips that can help you get started on the right path to tackling unexpected weight loss in your horse.
First and foremost, ALWAYS have your horse evaluated by your veterinarian if he is facing any type of health challenge! I cannot stress this enough. There are so many things that can be affecting 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 that people are made to wait and see an 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 commercial dewormers available on the market, you may find that your deworming protocols are no longer effective. Your vet can do a fecal egg count and tell you what types of intestinal parasites (if any) your horse may have. Based on this information, you can make more specific decisions about which deworming protocols may be most effective for your situation.
There are also alternative protocols that are becoming more popular among horse keepers. Many of these are safe to use alongside traditional dewormers and can help increase the effectiveness of your deworming program.
Some of these include:
- Food grade diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth is believed to work in a similar way as it moves 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 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. 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.
- Immune System Supplementation: An organism that has a compromised immune system will be more susceptible to all types of infection, including internal and external parasites. Adding antioxidant-rich supplements can help your horse’s ability to deal with these attacks naturally. Immune support is very important in maintaining the geriatric horse.
I’ve been amazed at how many people I’ve encountered over the years who don’t know that horses need routine dental care. There are many factors that go into the function of the horse’s jaw and how the horse’s teeth are continually worn down and worn down. The way a horse moves, the position in which it eats, what it eats, etc. 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 may be missing teeth, which also contributes to problems processing their food properly. Having your horse checked by a reputable equine dentist at least once or twice a year can save you some pain down the road.
Your horse’s weight loss may be a simple matter of math…they burn more calories than they take in. Increasing your horse’s hay and/or feed may be necessary, especially for horses in heavy training or work. However, adding a high-quality, high-calorie 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. However, because corn oil is not fully digestible, large amounts must be given 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, palatable, and provide additional benefits to the skin and coat are flaxseed, soybean, and wheat germ oils.
When it comes to geriatric horses, the ability to chew becomes more and more problematic, not to mention the aging digestive tract becomes less efficient and able to extract the necessary nutrients from what they can chew. Adding some forages that are easier to chew and digest can help. However, you’ll want to be sure and check with your veterinarian before changing your horse’s diet. Certain conditions, such as liver and kidney dysfunction, require special dietary consideration.
alfalfa – For all my older mares, we offer soaked alfalfa cubes once a day, as well as having access to free-choice coastal hay and light 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 maintain aging muscles and bones.
Beet pulp – Soaked beet pulp is also a very popular fodder alternative. It is very rich in calcium and is very easy to digest. Most horses find it quite tasty and easy to eat, even horses without teeth!
Complete feeds for seniors – There are a number of high quality complete feeds available on the market these days. Many of these can even be soaked to make digestion easier for horses that don’t have teeth or have trouble chewing. When looking for a senior feed, I usually try to avoid those with a lot of sugars (usually molasses). I prefer feeds that are based on alfalfa meal, so I know exactly what my horse is getting. I avoid those who have them "hay byproduct" as the first ingredient listed. Feed consistency cannot be guaranteed when they can use pretty much anything that is considered hay. If they list alfalfa food on the label, then I know they MUST use alfalfa, nothing else.
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