Why Isn't my Horse Gaining Weight?
Few animals are able to transmit the poise and elegance that horses do. Their physical appearance makes horses one of the most beautiful animals in the world, and one of the most beloved. Furthermore, people that are very familiar with horses know that the bond between horse and rider can be truly special and life-changing, even therapeutic.
As always, an impeccable appearance reflects something much more important than simple aesthetics: It suggests an optimal state of health. A physically beautiful horse not only implies the absence of disease and good grooming, but also a perfect nutrition adapted to the individual requirements of the horse.
One of the most common problems for horse owners is thinness, or low weight gain. With this in mind, this AnimalWised article will try to answer the question "Why isn't my horse gaining weight?" with practical and safe solutions so that your horse looks and feels as good as it deserves.
Normal weight of horses
In order to properly assess if your horse has a weight problem, you need to know what the normal weight of a horse is. Horse breeds can be classified into three groups or types, with each group having a band of weight which is considered to be normal:
- Heavy or draft horses: 700 - 1000 kg (1540 - 2200 lb)
- Light or saddle horses: 380 - 550 kg (840 - 1210 lb)
- Ponies and miniature breeds: 150 - 360 kg (330 - 800 lb)
If the horse's weight doesn't fall between the parameters for its particular breed, you should be concerned about its health and start ruling out the possible factors that caused this growth alteration. We will discuss them now, but you should always check with a veterinarian, because a horse's height and lifestyle are also important factors to take into account.
How much food does a horse need?
If your horse isn't putting on any weight while it's growing, it is a priority to reconsider its diet, since it may be the case that it isn't appropriate or sufficient. After all, nutrition is the main factor that acts on the body weight, health and growth of horses.
Horses have a delicate digestive system, but it is perfectly prepared for grazing; this is a horse's natural and primary source of nutrients. Besides good quality grass, the horse will also require hay and nutritional supplements in cases where the requirements of the organism change, as happens with pregnant mares.
The amount of food required by a horse every day will vary depending on many factors such as sex, age, breed, climate, size, exercise, etc.
However, we can give you a general guideline: A horse needs to eat 2-3% of its body weight in food per day. Therefore, a horse weighing 400 kg would need to eat 8 - 12 kg of food every day. This should consist of 60% forage and 40% feed.
Here you can learn more about what is the best diet for horses.
Does your horse have parasites?
It is extremely important to regularly check and treat horses for parasites, since if your horse doesn't gain any weight it may be due to the presence of internal or external parasites.
One of the parasites that specifically affects the digestive tract of horses, and which can therefore cause anorexia and reduced growth, is ticks.
The larval stage of a tick's life cycle can be especially harmful to the horse's health. You will see signs of infestation in the mouth, noticing inflammation of the oral mucosa, gums and the inside of the lips, besides ulcers and excessive salivation. This clinical profile of inflammation in the mouth, also known as stomatitis, will make it difficult for your horse to eat.
If the tick infestation isn't treated in time, this parasite can even cause obstruction or perforations in the stomach.
Intoxication by poisonous plants
There are several plants that are toxic for horses; some of these plants are so lethal that they can cause the animal to die in a short amount of time. Other plants, while still being dangerous will leave you a greater period of time to act and get your horse healthy again. Do some research online to find out which ones can be found in your area, as toxic plants are a serious danger to grazing horses.
Consuming toxic plants causes a loss of appetite in horses, as well as the following symptoms:
- Loss of balance
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Excessive salivation
If you notice any of these symptoms in your horse, you must urgently go to the vet.
Pathologies that stop your horse from gaining weight
When your horse doesn't gain weight, there are many underlying pathologies that might be causing the disorder. As such, it is important to identify any visible sign of disease in the horse.
The following signs tell you that your horse horse is sick, and should make you think that it may be a pathological disorder that is causing loss of appetite and growth disorders:
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid respiratory rate
- Inability to walk
- Small depositions
- Liquid depositions
- Abnormal urine color
- Dull coat
- Expressionless eyes
- Dull eyes
- Bowed head
If, in addition to noticing that your horse isn't putting on any weight, you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, it will be vitally important to get a veterinary check up. Your priority is not making your horse gain weight, but fixing the underlying cause.
What to do if your horse isn't gaining weight
Each horse needs to be given individual attention, as there are many factors that must be analysed in order to provide a proper resolution to the growth problem.
However, it is important that you consider the following tips:
- Go to the vet as soon as possible so that they can rule out any type of underlying disease.
- Give enough high quality forage to your horse.
- Treat the animal for parasites regularly.
- Ask the vet if it is necessary to enrich the horse's diet with nutritional supplements.
By responding and treating your horse appropriately and soon, your horse will be able to return to its optimal weight and feel and look impeccable.
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