A horse’s weight depends on its diet and physical activity. There are many causes of weight loss in horses and these must be determined quickly.
Weight loss can be mild or severe, and may or may not be accompanied by a refusal to eat.
Defining the severity of the weight loss allows you to determine the cause: indeed, a slight weight loss often requires only a slight modification of the horse’s environment, whereas a severe weight loss may reveal pathology.
Is the weight loss of my horse significant?
The condition score system helps you define whether your horse is thin or not.
The horse is scored from 1 to 5 (1 being lean, 5 being obese), by looking at certain areas where fat is concentrated: the bun, behind the shoulder, the ribs, and the point of the hip and the base of the tail. These areas should contain fat but not too much. The bones should be palpable but not protruding.
The condition score allows weight loss to be identified early so that it can be corrected quickly. The ideal weight is between 2.5 and 3 on the condition score scale. A horse is considered too thin if it is below this range. It is also important to note that weight loss can be considered a concern if it reaches 1.5 on the condition score.
Sudden or slow weight loss
It is also necessary to define if your horse is suffering from sudden weight loss or if it has appeared more slowly, being chronic or transient.
Sudden and severe weight loss indicates a medical condition and should not be taken lightly.
Anorexia (not eating) is a non-specific symptom that could indicate any number of problems. Conversely, a horse may have a slight seasonal weight loss, which should be prevented by various means.
What should I feed my horse with?
If the horse is losing weight, the feed it is given should be questioned. Firstly, it is important to check that the horse is receiving a sufficient quantity of food and that it is adapted to its needs. The horse is a strict herbivore that, in its natural state, eats about 15 hours a day. Continuous feeding or feeding as much as possible throughout the day is best suited to its needs. Hay and/or grass are ideally the horse’s main diet. For some horses, hay is not enough and they need to be supplemented to maintain their condition, for example with cereals, which are more energetic than fibre.
Mineral and vitamin deficiencies can occur in horses with an unbalanced diet. Especially in horses fed only hay and grass, deficiencies can be suspected when slight weight loss, poor form, poor hair, and horn quality are noticed. The addition of a VMC (Mineral Vitamin Supplement) to the ration will ensure that the horse’s mineral and vitamin requirements are met.
The horse’s diet must also be adapted to its sporting use. The more a horse works, the more it must be supplemented in order to have enough energy and not lose weight.
Does my horse suffer from seasonal wasting?
Seasonal wasting is common in horses that live in the pasture. There is less grass in the off-season. Even if the horse is supplemented with hay, it is less rich than grass. This change in diet combined with the weather conditions will cause the horse to lose fat. A slight change in weight is normal in winter and can be quickly corrected by supplementing the horse.
However, a large loss of condition in winter is not normal. Some horses feed on grass but restrict their intake of hay as it is more difficult to chew, which may hide a tooth problem.