horse nutrition

My horse is dropping weight unexpectedly. What should I do?

There are three common reasons for unexpected weight loss. These include inadequate diet, poor dental care and ineffective worming. If your horse is losing weight unexpectedly, then you should assess these three areas to ensure their needs are being met.  Nutrition  As a general rule, every horse should be consuming 2-3% of their bodyweight in feed every day. Feeding low-quality roughage or providing an inadequate level of calories in your horse’s daily feed ration are two of the most common culprits behind unexpected weight loss. The nutritional requirements of horses must be met at every stage of life. Young, growing horses, lactating mares and equine athletes will have higher requirements for calories and protein than pleasure horses. Remember, seasonal and hormonal changes can also affect senior horses and mares in oestrus, resulting in weight loss during Winter and weight gain during Summer. Dental Care Without regular dental care, your horse may find it uncomfortable or even painful to chew their food. At any age, sharp enamel points, caused by uneven wear, missing or misaligned teeth, can cause mild to severe discomfort. From nine months of age, every horse should receive a dental examination at least once a year. However, as your horse ages, the need for regular dental checks will increase. Any horse aged 16 or older should receive a minimum of two dental examinations per year. Weight loss due to poor dentition is most commonly seen in senior horses. Proper chewing and, thus, digestion will support your senior horse’s ability to absorb nutrients and maintain a healthy weight.  Worming  While most horses can live in harmony with some intestinal parasites, any high worm burden can have long-term impacts on your horse’s intestinal health and ability to absorb nutrients, leading to severe weight loss and malnutrition. Every horse should be wormed every 8-12 weeks depending on the product you use. It’s also vital you assess the effectiveness of your worming program with a faecal egg count prior to worming and a faecal egg count reduction test several weeks later. Providing your horse with an adequate dose of the wormer most effective against the parasites affecting them is the only way to protect them against damage to the digestive tract.

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My horse has broken into the feed shed and eaten everything. What should I look for?

The first step is to call your veterinarian immediately to determine what course of action needs to be taken. Overeating can lead to colic and laminitis, while consuming feeds not intended for horses can be fatal. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what to do.  Firstly, if your horse has consumed a large quantity of horse feed, you need to very cautious about an onset of colic or laminitis. Colic is a general term describing stomach discomfort or pain. You must watch your horse carefully for changes in behaviour and closely monitor their vital signs. The common signs of colic are:  Pawing at the ground Looking around at the flank Frequently laying down and getting up Rolling Curling the upper lip Increased heart rate or breathing rate Excessive sweating around the flanks or shoulders Laminitis causes severe pain in the hooves and may be evidenced by lameness, unwillingness to move, slow movement or lying down for long periods. You should closely monitor your horse’s vital signs, and check their hooves for a bounding digital pulse or heat that doesn’t dissipate. Secondly, if your horse has consumed any feed intended for other animals, you should find the feed bag and read the ingredients to your veterinarian. Some of these feeds contain additives or medications that are potentially deadly to horses. Depending on the quantity and type of feed your horse has consumed, your veterinarian will be able to assess the severity of the situation. If you notice any unusual changes in your horse’s vital signs, or suspect colic or laminitis, call your veterinarian immediately.

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My horse ate chicken feed. Is he going to be okay?

I was feeding my horses this morning when I realized that one of them had gotten into the chicken feed- this is a common call we get as Equine Veterinarians. If your horse ate chicken feed, it is important to take action immediately. Chicken feed can be dangerous for horses and can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Symptoms of chicken feed poisoning in horses can include colic, diarrhea, and lethargy. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to call your vet immediately. Chicken food does not get processed the same way horse feed does and the chicken digestive tract can grind food and tolerate mold and mycotoxins far better than horses can. Often chicken food is completely grain also, which can produce colic, diarrhea, and laminitis in horses. But alternatively chicken can eat horse feed and if you want to read more about it here is a good article on It. Assessing the Situation When you find out that your horse has eaten chicken feed, it’s essential to assess the situation carefully. As a horse owner, it’s natural to be concerned about your horse’s well-being. Here are some things to consider: What to Look For First, check the label on the chicken feed to see what ingredients are listed. If the feed contains any harmful substances, it’s essential to take immediate action. Next, assess the amount of chicken feed your horse has eaten. If it’s a small amount, your horse may be okay, but if it’s a large amount, it could be dangerous. Ring your veterinarian immediately if you think it has consumed more than 2-5 kgs for an adult full-sized horse. Symptoms of Chicken Feed Poisoning Watch your horse closely for any signs of poisoning. Symptoms of chicken feed poisoning can include: If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s essential to call a veterinarian immediately. Treatment Options After discovering that your horse ate chicken feed here are the treatment options: Home Remedies If your horse only ate a small amount of chicken feed, you can try some home remedies. First, remove any remaining chicken feed from your horse’s reach. Then, offer your horse plenty of fresh water to help flush out any toxins. You can also offer hay or grass to help dilute the chicken feed in your horse’s stomach. Keep an eye on your horse for any signs of discomfort or illness. When to Call a Vet If your horse ate a large amount of chicken feed or shows any signs of illness or discomfort, it’s important to call a vet immediately. Signs of illness can include colic, diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite. The vet may recommend further treatment, such as administering activated charcoal or intravenous fluids. What to Expect from a Vet Visit During a vet visit, the vet will examine your horse and ask about the amount of chicken feed ingested. The vet may take blood samples or perform other tests to check for any signs of toxicity or illness. Treatment options may include administering activated charcoal to absorb toxins, administering intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, or providing medication to alleviate symptoms. The vet may also recommend monitoring your horse’s condition for several days after the incident to ensure a full recovery. They may also suggest you keep an eye on your horses feet and their temperature. If the feet become hot the treatment is to give them foot ice baths for 15 minutes every hour for sometimes 48 hours to prevent laminitis from occuring. Preventing Chicken Feed Poisoning Storing Chicken Feed As a responsible horse owner, I know that proper storage of chicken feed is crucial to prevent my horse from eating it. I store my chicken feed in a secure, airtight container that is labeled clearly. This helps to prevent accidental ingestion of chicken feed by my horse. I make sure to always keep the container out of reach of my horse and other animals. Alternative Feeding Options If you are concerned about your horse accidentally ingesting chicken feed, you can consider alternative feeding locations or different food for your poultry. There are many different types of feed available that are specifically formulated and safer for horses if they accidentally eat some. You can talk to your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist to determine the best feeding options for your horse. By following these simple steps, you can help ensure that your horse does not accidentally ingest chicken feed or other harmful substances. Taking these precautions can help keep your horse healthy and happy. Read More About Horse Feeding Topics

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How do I plan my horse’s feeding regime?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question, so it’s important you assess your horse’s nutritive requirements as an individual. Formulating a balanced diet that supports their precise needs starts by asking the right questions…  How old is your horse?  As your horse ages, their needs for energy, caloric intake and digestibility will change, so formulating your horses’s diet is not a ‘set and forget’ activity, and should be discussed in consultation with a nutritionist or veterinarian. At a young age, horse feeds are designed to support growth, with higher levels of protein for weanlings and yearlings. As your horse enters their senior years or is considered ‘nutritionally senior’, they require a feed that’s high in fibre, easy to chew and delivers readily available nutrients.  How much does your horse weigh?  At different stages of life, you may also need to feed for weight loss or weight gain. For example, you may need to consider diet changes during the transition from Winter to Spring, as your horse may have lost condition over the cooler months. Using a weight tape or body condition scoring, you can easily determine if your horse is underweight, over-weight or in peak condition. When doing this, don’t forget to consider your horse’s breed as ideal body condition is categorised differently for certain breeds.  How often is your horse exercised?  Every horse, no matter their workload, should eat approximately 2% of their bodyweight in dry feed per day and forage sources, such as pasture and hay, should make up the bulk of this ration. For those easy keepers, pasture and added supplements may be enough to maintain their condition. However, if your horse has a moderate to heavy workload, or pasture is scare and deficient in vital nutrients, their diet will need to incorporate commercial feeds. When considering your horse’s workload, ensure that you don’t over- or under-estimate their activity level.  Does your horse require additional nutrients? Likewise, if your horse is a stallion, pregnant or lactating mare, their nutritive requirements are higher. A breeding stallion will require a daily feed ration, balanced by forage, that provides him with energy, vitamins and minerals to maintain his performance and sperm motility. During the stages of pregnancy, your mare’s requirements will vary, with late gestation and lactation being the most demanding stages on her condition. Her daily feed ration will need to supply her with energy, vitamins and minerals to assist in foal growth, repair and milk production. Does your horse have any pre-existing health problems influenced by nutrition? Finally, if your horse suffers from any health condition that is exacerbated by incorrect feeding, then you need to approach their diet with caution. A veterinarian should be involved to ensure your horse is diagnosed correctly, so an appropriate feeding plan can be put in place. 

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Horse Health: The Spring Health Check

As the seasons change from Winter to Spring, it’s an ideal time to review your horse’s health with your veterinarian. With Spring comes a more active riding and competition schedule, and an assessment of your horse will help to maximise their performance. Our veterinarians are an excellent resource for advice on all aspects of horse management, including preventative medicine, nutrition, body condition, behavioural problems and hoof care. Use Spring to treat your whole horse to gain the most out of the warmer months.  Health Care  Before the busy season begins, a physical examination by your veterinarian will give your horse the best start to an increasing workload. Not only will your vet be able to identify any issues that may affect your horse, but you can also discuss nutritional and training strategies. Vaccination and parasite control are central to your horse’s health. The threat of parasites and biting insects increases as the weather warms, so the start of Spring is the perfect time to protect your horse with vaccinations, de-worming and a faecal egg count. Hoof Care Spring brings many challenges to your horse’s hooves, particularly if they’re kept in soggy or muddy conditions for prolonged periods of time. Thrush and hoof abscesses are common in the wet. A consultation with your vet will aid treatment and prevention. If your horse is encountering any hoof problems in hand or under saddle that relate to shoeing or trimming, it’s important that you resolve these issues well ahead of travel and competitions. Your veterinarian will be able to offer advice on the hoof care solution your horse needs. Nutrition Finally, adequate nutrition and pasture management play a massive role in your horse’s health, energy and immunity. The transition from Winter to Spring can leave your horse susceptible to acute and chronic conditions, like colic or laminitis, if diet changes aren’t managed correctly. Likewise, incorrect feed storage, resulting in contamination by vermin or mouldy hay, can have devastating consequences for your horse. Seek advice from your veterinarian about your horse’s nutritive requirements and safe storage practices on your property.

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Help! My horse is itchy and I don’t know why. What should I do?

Itchiness, also called pruritus, can lead to hair loss and skin damage as your horse rubs to provide some relief. Many skin conditions are frustratingly difficult to treat without the advice of a veterinarian. If your horse is itchy, the first thing you should do is call your vet. Unlike humans, food allergies are relatively uncommon in horses, but many horses can develop allergies to their environment. In some parts of Australia, horses can also have adverse reactions to the bite of some insects. Diagnosis with the support of a veterinarian is recommended. Diagnosing Skin Conditions Itchiness is a symptom of many parasites, infections and allergies, so identifying the cause is the first step in developing an effective treatment plan. Your horse may bite, rub or lick the itchy area to alleviate the sensation, but prompt action is best to prevent long-term skin damage. Your veterinarian will conduct a skin history and physical examination, which may involve a skin biopsy for further testing. If the cause of the itching requires longer term investigation, your horse may be prescribed anti-itching medications, such as antihistamines or corticosteroids. Treating Skin Conditions While some skin conditions are easy to identify by visual assessment alone, at times, correctly diagnosing the cause of the itching requires a process of elimination. Over a period of time, you and your vet will determine if parasites, insects, seasonal or food allergies are to blame. Preventative health care can also play a role in reducing or even stopping itching. Regular insect control during warm seasons and de-worming throughout the year can successfully control the number of parasites affecting your horse.

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Bringing Your Horse Back into Work Safely

With the arrival of Spring, many horse owners are itching to get back in the saddle and ride regularly again with their horses. However, bringing your horse back into work safely requires a gradual approach to prevent health problems. After an inactive Winter season, your horse may have lost body condition and level of fitness. As such, it’s important that you increase your horse’s workload gradually, both in length and intensity, along with making gradual feed changes to support safe weight gain or loss. Increasing Workload If your horse spent the majority of Winter paddocked or stabled, you need to be careful that you don’t over exert them during your first Spring rides. Groundwork and light work are ideal when getting your horse back into a working routine. At the same time, as your horse’s workload increases, so too does their need for nutritionally balanced diet and unlimited access to fresh, clean water to support the loss of fluids and electrolytes caused by sweating. Improving Body Condition In addition, using a scale or weight tape, you should assess your horse’s body condition. Some horses may have gained weight over Winter, while others may have lost weight. A body condition score of 3 is ideal for a horse in moderate work. Increasing or decreasing body weight safely takes several weeks to months to achieve. When formulating a suitable diet for your horse, be sure that forage, such as hay or pasture, form the bulk of their daily feed ration and no more than 2.5kg of grain is fed in a single meal.

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Exercising Your Horse During Winter

During Winter, the cooler conditions are an ideal time to maintain your horse’s fitness, improve any problems under saddle and prepare for the competition season. To ensure a safe Winter workout, we share our top three tips.  Even in Winter, active movement is essential to your horse’s health and wellbeing. Regular turnout and exercise is vital to healthy circulation, bone, soft tissue and hooves, and aids in preventing lameness and injury.  Warm up and cool down  Before starting your Winter workouts, 10-15 minutes of warm up is crucial to loosen stiff muscles and joints. Warm up with a mixture of exercises in walk and trot, using bends, circles, gait changes and lateral movements to add variety. Post-workout, you need to cool your horse with another 10-15 minutes of gentle exercises. Walking for 10 minutes will help to dry any sweat and clear the byproducts of exercise. If your horse is kept stabled or clipped during Winter, be sure to factor in their needs to your training regime. Vary the type of exercise  Tailor your Winter workouts to your chosen discipline. A dressage horse will benefit from refining their lateral work on level ground to maintain their strength and balance. Whereas a show jumper will require higher intensity cardiovascular fitness, with jumping training several times per week. However, there are a number of exercises that all horses, regardless of discipline, will benefit from. Hill work, in particular walking hills, is ideal for building the hindquarters. You should also strive to hack out at least once a week. Hacking out gives your horse mental stimulation, while improving their condition. Nutrition and hydration  Finally, a well balanced diet will give your horse the energy requirements they need for athletic ability, stamina and strength, along with keeping them warm during Winter. Your horse’s ration should include low-sugar high-fibre feed and unlimited access to forage sources, such as hay or pasture, every day. In Winter, your horse may drink less water, which can leave them dehydrated and at risk of impaction colic. Cold water can lower their body temperature, so warming water may assist in encouraging your horse to drink. To ensure a healthy water intake, your horse should be offered water before and after training.

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