Rehabilitating Underweight Horses: Slow And Steady Wins The Race

by | 06.15.2015 | 7:47pm

When animal welfare workers find severely underweight horses in the course of an investigation, their rescue is often the part of their journey that makes headlines. For those hoping to restore a starved or otherwise skinny horse to good health however, getting them out of an abusive or neglectful situation is just the first step in a long, long road.

Dr. Laurie Metcalfe of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital told the Off-Track Thoroughbreds blog that all feed changes should be made gradually with a horse that is severely underweight. Small, frequent meals first consisting of good quality hay should form the base of the horse's diet; grain should be introduced only after the horse is able to metabolize the hay without incident. A horse's body often adjusts the way it processes protein in a starvation state, and sudden changes can shock the system easily, however well-intentioned those changes may be. Thin horses also have decreased gut bacteria needed to process food, as well as electrolyte imbalances that must be corrected over time.

It's also important to investigate whether the source of a horse's unthriftiness is an underlying health issue, rather than abuse or neglect, Metcalfe cautions. There are a number of conditions, including cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or parasites that can result in the thinness and poor coat that many people assume come from a neglect situation. A regimen of medical tests should be the first step in rehabilitating a horse with weight issues.

Read more at Off-Track Thoroughbreds

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