Horse weight

Winter Care for Senior Horses – My Old Horse Struggles in Winter. What Can I Do to Help Them?

With sensible management and sound nutrition, you can help your golden oldie weather the Winter months ahead. In this article, we discuss Winter Care for Senior Horses and how you can support your senior horse in a colder climate. Autumn Health Check While veterinary advances are improving the lives of senior horses, many common challenges of aging are aggravated during Winter. For your senior horse, difficulties maintaining weight, mobility, and immunity may become compromised without proper care. An annual Autumn health check is imperative for senior horses. In Autumn, your senior horse should receive a visit from your veterinarian to ensure they’re prepared for the rigors of Winter. This annual Autumn health check will assess the: Body Condition  Ideally, diet changes should begin in Autumn to ensure your senior horse enters Winter in good body condition. A body condition score of 3/5 is recommended. At this weight range, fat is evenly distributed over the body, but the horse isn’t carrying excessive weight. A physical and visual assessment, with the support of your veterinarian, will help you determine your senior horse’s body condition score. The ribs should be easily felt, but not visible, the withers rounded, the back level and the tail head slightly spongy. Nutrition and Diet Any senior horse that is currently overweight or underweight will require changes to their feeding regime before Winter. Both weight issues are detrimental to a senior horse’s health and comfort. An underweight horse will struggle to regulate body temperature, while obesity damages joints. Together with your veterinarian, you should develop a Winter feeding regime for your senior horse. Their diet should be formulated to maintain optimum body condition and provide warmth throughout Winter with quality roughage sources that can be easily chewed and digested. Overall Health Any health issue can become even more arduous during Winter. Your veterinarian should perform a complete physical examination of your senior horse (Download Free Guide), including vital signs, teeth, and hooves. This is also a prime opportunity to discuss their vaccination and de-worming schedule. Some of the common health problems that may worsen for the senior horse in Winter include:

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My Horse is Losing Condition, Why?

Unexpected weight loss, resulting in poor body condition, endangers your horse’s health. With the support of your veterinarian, the underlying cause can be diagnosed and a management plan developed to promote safe weight gain and healthy body condition.  Sudden or chronic weight loss is detrimental to horse health. There are a number of reasons why your horse may be losing weight and determining the cause on your own is often challenging. Involving your veterinarian from the outset is recommended. They will perform a full physical examination, including dental exam, and may take blood and manure samples for analysis. In some cases, further testing may be required to rule out a health problem. Your veterinarian can also assess your horse’s diet. Poor quality roughage, including your own pasture, may be linked to your horse’s weight loss. Your veterinarian will be able to offer guidance on analysing the quality of your pasture and hay with laboratory testing. Five Common Causes of Weight Loss For those horse owners who want to learn more about the common causes of unexpected weight loss, we’ve outlined the top five below. Your knowledge of what’s normal for your horse will help your veterinarian determine the reason behind your horse’s weight loss. Stress  Particularly for the highly strung horse, stress may contribute to unexpected weight loss. A sudden change in environment, diet, training, or the occurrence of a health problem, can affect your horse’s appetite. Together, stress and decreased feed consumption may trigger the formation of gastric ulcers, resulting in pain and further perpetuating the issue of weight loss.   Intestinal Parasites  With inefficient worming, intestinal parasites may proliferate and lead to malnutrition problems. Intestinal parasites can wreak havoc on your horse’s health if not kept in check with regular worming. When allowed to increase to large numbers, these parasites compete for the nutrients present in your horse’s feed and cause damage to the lining of their gastrointestinal tract.  Dental Problems  Poor dental health, including difficulty chewing, may play a role in unexpected weight loss.  Of the various issues that can occur, sharp enamel points are often implicated in weight loss. Caused by uneven wear, missing or misaligned teeth, the immense pain may force your horse to chew awkwardly, drop food while eating or avoid some foods, such as roughage, altogether.   Illness or Disease  Chronic diseases can deplete your horse’s appetite or impact on their digestion.  Liver and kidney disease cause physiological damage to these vital organs, often resulting in weight loss. Some cancers are known to produce inflammatory hormones which may affect digestion, in turn, decreasing your horse’s appetite and leading to weight loss.  Diet  An inadequate diet, low in calories or vital nutrients, may deplete body condition. The importance of a well-balanced, forage-first diet cannot be underestimated. For horses with high caloric needs, such as young, growing horses, lactating mares and performance athletes, a diet insufficient in energy, protein, vitamins and minerals may contribute to weight loss.

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What Should I Feed My Horse to Put Weight On?

Maintaining a healthy weight and body condition throughout every stage of life is essential for your horse. However, before you begin trialling the feed recommendations outlined in this article, you must first understand the cause behind any unexpected weight loss.  As a horse owner, you’ve no doubt come across the term ‘good doer’, which refers to horses that can easily maintain body weight. For those who aren’t so lucky, other horses may struggle to maintain weight and condition, even with correct feeding, which leads us to question why. Weight Loss There are a number of reasons why your horse may be losing weight. Before you immediately turn to diet to find the answers, you must first assess your horse’s: Dentition De-worming Exposure to stress Overall health Dentition Poor oral health can lead to compromised digestion and dental disease. One of the most common complaints is sharp enamel points, which are caused by uneven wear and irregular filing. These points interfere with your horse’s chewing, leaving them unable to properly grind their food, thus impeding their ability to absorb nutrients. De-worming An ineffective de-worming regime can lead to an excessive parasite burden in your horse’s gastrointestinal tract. These nasty critters may be competing directly for the nutrients within your horse’s food and causing damage to the intestinal lining, in turn, diminishing nutrient absorption. Exposure to stress Stabling, regular transportation and a heavy competition schedule can leave your horse stressed, which may affect their weight and condition. Likewise, performance and racing horses on high grain diets may develop gastric ulcers, which are incredibly painful and may discourage eating. Overall health Heathy weight and body condition are two signs of good health, as such the presence of illness, infection or disease should also be ruled out. At times, illness may affect your horse’s appetite, leaving them disinterested in food; at other times, disease may limit nutrient absorption. Weight Loss If none of the above are involved in your horse’s weight loss, it’s time to turn to diet to promote safe weight gain. Of all the ingredients in a well-balanced diet, fibre, carbohydrates and fats are the three energy sources integral in gaining — and maintaining — body weight. Fibre  Above all, fibre is the most important component in your horse’s diet. If weight gain is your goal, adding fibre to your horse’s diet is the first step. However, not all fibre was created equal. When compared to grass hay of similar quality, lucerne hay has been shown to have superior energy content and digestibility. Alternative fibre sources, such as the ‘super fibres’, including beet pulp, and soy or lupin hulls, provide an even richer source of highly digestible fibre. Carbohydrates  While the carbohydrates sugar and starch are the most efficient energy source, due to their simple enzymatic process, complications can arise when feeding too much grain. To safely add weight, carbohydrates may be used in your horse’s diet. However, a strict ratio of 70:30 fibre to carbohydrates should be followed at all times. In addition, no more than 2kg of grain should be fed in a single meal; instead, grain should be divided over 2-3 meals per day. Fats  If you’re seeking an alternative to grains, look no further than fats in the form of vegetable oils, such as soy, rice bran and canola oil, which contain up to three times more digestible energy. Fats not only add calories to your horse’s diet, without the need for large amounts of grain, but feeding fats has many health benefits, including improving skin and coat condition, decreasing excitable behaviours and avoiding the health complications of high grain diets.

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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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Am I the right size for my horse?

As a general rule, scientific studies indicate a horse shouldn’t be expected to carry more than 20% of its bodyweight. However, when selecting the right horse for you, their health, condition and soundness are most important.  The safety and wellbeing of both horse and rider are paramount. If you’re looking for a new horse, there are several questions you should ask to determine if they’re the right match for you. Are they healthy?  Is the horse in good health, with vaccinations, dental and hoof care up to date? Does the horse show any signs of illness or injury? A vet check is well worth the money when shopping for a horse. With various tests, it may uncover present issues that will cause bigger problems in the future.  Are they conditioned?  Above all, any horse expected to perform under saddle must be a in healthy body condition. Further to this, they should also be trained and conditioned for the activities expected of them. If the horse has been out of work, they must be conditioned slowly prior to carrying any heavy weight. Are they sound?  A veterinarian can also perform a soundness examination prior to purchase. A word of caution – a soundness examination will evaluate the horse – its back, legs and hooves – to determine their soundness for riding, not if they’re the right size horse for you. What is their age, breed and size?  Aside from the horse’s overall health, you must also consider their age, breed and size. Are they too old or too young for you? Are they a suitable breed for what you intend to use them for? Are they too small for you to ride comfortably or too big for you to handle safely? Are my skills suitable for the horse?  Finally, attention must also be paid to you, as the rider. Most importantly, if you’re a new or inexperienced rider buying your first horse, you need to ensure your riding abilities are suited to the horse. A heavy, unbalanced rider may cause long-term injury to the horse’s back. You should also be mindful of the equipment you intend to use. A lightweight saddle that fits both horse and rider will assist in minimising the impacts of riding, even if you are heavier. Speak with a veterinarian and qualified saddle fitter if you have further questions.

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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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Managing Melanomas and Your Horse

For any grey horse owner, melanomas are part of the package, with 80% of grey horses over the age of 15 likely to encounter one or more in their lifetime. However, melanomas can develop on any horse, so every horse owner should understand more about them.  While skin cancer is much less prevalent in horses than humans, common skin cancers, like melanomas, can pose a health risk and cause your horse discomfort. Thankfully, they’re often benign, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. What is a Melanoma? A type of tumour, melanomas are an uncontrolled growth of cells that are usually malignant. Generally brown, grey or black in colour, they most often appear on the underside of the tail, perineal and peri-anal regions. However, they’ve also been found on the penis and sheath, ears, eyes, head and jugular region. When they first appear, melanomas are subcutaneous – covered by skin – but, over time, they can become ulcerated or infected and require treatment. Management and Treatment Any presence of melanomas should be watched carefully. Even benign, slow-growing melanomas have the potential to develop into a malignant growth, so you must routinely check your horse for any changes in size or appearance, or new growths. If found in certain areas, any melanoma – benign or malignant – can interfere with your horse’s comfort, particularly if located in the bridle or saddle areas. Some malignant melanomas can also limit your horse’s excretory functions, as well as breeding and foaling if around the peri-anal regions. Sometimes melanomas are removed by surgery. For those nuisance benign melanomas, this is often the best method. However, freezing with liquid nitrogen, chemotherapy and radiation are often used in partnership with surgery in malignant cases.

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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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5 Tips for Managing the Laminitic Horse in Spring

If you own a horse susceptible to grass-induced laminitis, Spring can make you feel increasingly nervous. However, with knowledge and support, you can provide your laminitic horse with the level of care they need to live comfortably.  Tip 1: Book a Vet Consultation A thorough health check by your veterinarian is highly recommended for the laminitic horse, especially to prevent the symptoms of laminitis recurring this season. With the support of your vet, be sure to check: Your horse’s health and set steps to improve their overall health if needed Your horse’s weight and insulin levels, and set goals to reduce these if they’re too high Your horse’s vaccination and de-worming program to ensure they’re fully protected  Tip 2: Assess Your Horse’s Diet  Careful diet management is crucial to the health of the laminitic horse. A high-fibre, low-carbohydrate diet, comprised mostly of hay, will support your horse’s caloric needs, without overloading on sugar. Tip 3: Manage Turnout Time Pasture, especially during Spring, can pose a high health risk to laminitic horses. Depending on the severity of your horse’s condition, closely monitored turnout during the night or early morning when fructan levels are lowest may be acceptable. Tip 4: Provide Supportive Hoof Care Laminitic horses have unique needs when it comes to hoof care. Shoeing should be avoided for as long as possible in Spring, except where corrective shoeing is required. Trimming should be done by a competent farrier with prior laminitis experience. Tip 5: Support Your Horse’s Wellbeing All horses thrive on freedom of movement, access to pasture and interaction with other horses. Provide your horse with unlimited access to water and hay containing less than 10% sugar, and utilise grazing muzzles or a dirt path system to encourage happy, healthy behaviour.

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My horse is dropping weight unexpectedly. What does that mean?

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 body weight 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, and 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. It’s also vital that you assess the effectiveness of your worming program with a fecal egg count prior to worming and a fecal 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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