Overweight Horse? - Here are some tips to trim down
Dr. Corey Paradine, a local veterinarian here in northeast Ohio speaks to Big Dee's about horses with a little extra girth. Overweight horses are at a greater risk for developing major health issues, so it's important to keep a close eye on their condition and adjust their routine or diet as needed for the best quality of life.
The Over-fed Horse There are a lot of fat horses these days, and it’s a problem. A serious problem. A problem that is so widespread that peoples’ assessment of normal is becoming skewed – often what most consider to be normal is actually obese, and what is actually healthy is often seen as too lean. Horses are not exempt from health risks associated with obesity – insulin resistance, for example, is a common weight-related disease. Insulin resistance is a disease in which the bodies’ insulin receptors become increasingly resistant to insulin, and as such the body must increase the levels of insulin to achieve the desired effect – mainly, affecting glucose uptake by cells. Think of it as Type 2 diabetes in people – not exactly the same disease but a similar concept. Inappropriately large body size also increases the stress on many joints and ligaments – in other words, increases the “wear and tear” on them by having to carry more weight than they should every minute of every day as well as increasing their load during performance.
So your horse is fat – now what? Diet and exercise. Calories IN must be less than calories OUT in order to shed pounds. Grain should be cut first when starting to decrease feed. Many horses, especially the easy keepers, do not need grain in their diet. The horses’ digestive tract is made to digest forages, not grains, and unless the grain is needed to meet energy requirements (often high performing horses, like racehorses, eventers, barrel horses), it’s unnecessary. That being said, a diet of hay or grass alone is not considered to be a balanced diet, and while a lot of horses do not need grain they should be fed a diet balancer (most major feed companies make one) to provide vitamins and minerals that forage alone does not.
Here are some great products that may help you get started with changes your overweight horse's diet:
- Diet balancers, necessary for horses receiving very little or no grain:
- Forage extenders, adds roughage:
- Standlee Premium Timothy Grass Pellets, Tribute Forage Extender Cube, Hydration Hay, Standlee Premium Alfalfa Timothy Cubes
Low calorie, a good intermediate step for horses who need small amounts of grain:
- Hay Nets to extend feeding time and keep horses occupied longer
- Click here to shop general vitamin & mineral supplements
Weight tapes are useful to help gauge weight loss – I recommend using a weight tape every couple weeks and keeping a log of the number. It can be very useful to chart trends in your horses’ weight. It’s important to be consistent in your placement of the tape as you can create false “gains” or “losses” by inconsistent placement and tension on the tape. The tape is most accurate when placed in the girth area, just behind the elbows and over the withers.
Weight loss is not always easy. There is considerable evidence that there are genetic factors that contribute to a propensity for weight gain and even insulin resistance. It takes time and persistence and often a complete lifestyle/management change to achieve and maintain significant weight loss in many of these horses. Products like slow-feeder hay nets are helpful for horses on strict diets as they slow feed intake and make the limited amount of hay last longer for the horse. Another key component to feeding is weighing feed (both grains/diet balancers and forages) as horses should be fed by weight (so many pounds of hay per day, so many pounds of grain or diet balancer per day – recommended amounts depend on the individual) rather than volume (flakes, scoops, coffee cans).
In some extreme cases, your horse could be suffering from a metabolic condition that may be treatable with targeted supplements. This can only be properly diagnosed through a vet, but you can always research these particular supplements and talk to your vet about which one may be right for your horse. Click here to shop our wide range of metabolic supplements.
Your veterinarian can provide some guidance for your individual horse, and it may be beneficial to contact a feed representative or nutritionist as well.
Disclaimer: This seminar was given at Big Dee's Anniversary Event. All content provided by Dr. Paradine on Big Dee's site is for informational purposes only. Big Dee's will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.