Weight Loss in Horses

July 9, 2007 (published) | September 11, 2017 (revised)

One of the major health problems in humans as well as many domestic animals is obesity, and horses are no exception. Horses that are overweight have more problems with arthritis as they get older and also have poorer performance than horses at a normal weight. Also, horses that are overweight are more likely to develop laminitis and founder, which is a major and potentially deadly problem. Some horses are overweight because they are simply fed too much or have access to large amounts of lush pasture while some are more susceptible to gaining weight because they are insulin resistant. Regardless, getting them to lose weight is critical and is not easy to accomplish and today I am going to talk about methods to help your horse lose weight.

Horses evolved eating very small meals by grazing about 16 hours of a 24-hour day and in most cases, horses are not fed in that manner today. Many horses are kept in stalls and are fed two meals a day, which is not the best method of feeding horses. Certainly a restricted diet is necessary but for a horse to lose weight, they must be fed about 60 percent of their maintenance requirements. You may be surprised by this but just decreasing calories by a small amount may prevent weight gain but will not cause weight loss to occur. So again, you would want to feed about 60 percent of the amount a horse of healthy weight would eat at an ideal weight. When feeding smaller amounts, one thing that will help is to feed in a hay net with small openings. Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a study that revealed horses fed on the ground ate twice as fast as those eating out of hay nets with small openings, and the longer it takes the horse to eat, the more natural it is for them. They eat less and also have a decreased chance of developing stomach ulcers.

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