Many horse owners have the problem of trying to get weight off of their horses. But the opposite problem, weight loss, is perhaps even more of a serious concern for the horse owner. Although excess weight can be remedied in a straightforward way with less food and more exercise, finding the cause of sudden or chronic weight loss in a horse can be difficult.
People who drive by horses in a field may wonder if the horses are getting enough to eat. Sadly, one of the main reasons why horses loose weight is because they are simply not given enough food to eat. This could be due to ignorance or deliberate abuse on the part of the owner. If you keep passing by a horse that seems to be getting thinner and thinner, pull the car over, take photos of the horse if you can and contact your local animal welfare officers immediately.
Gradual Weight Loss
The first place a horse looses weight is about the ribs. Horses and ponies should not have ribs be visible unless they are of a normally lean breed like the Thoroughbred or the Akhal Teke. Even Thoroughbred ribs tend to disappear into the flesh once the horse becomes sexually mature at about five years old. The ribs can be easily felt, though.
After the horse loses more then 50 pounds, the ribs are not the only bones that start to show. The spine will seem to stick up from the rest of the body. After a loss of over 100 pounds, the withers, shoulders and skull will become more prominent. Eventually the horse loses any cresting to the neck and develops the hollow spaces over the eyes that usually only appear in aged horses.
If the horse is still eating like – well, like a horse, but is still losing weight, then a vet check is in order. For some reason, the horse is not able to get the nutrition it needs from its food. Physical causes of weight loss in horses include tooth problems (it hurts too much to eat); a heavy infestation of internal parasites; the beginnings of cancer or even diabetes. Horses that have respiratory problems like heaves will not be able to eat dusty hay or graze in a particularly sandy or dusty paddock. If the horse getting bony is a mare, make sure she isn’t pregnant.
If there doesn’t seem to be a physical problem, then perhaps the horse is burning up too much energy. Breeding stallions will often lose weight dramatically during the breeding season. Horses that weave or constantly fidgit in their stalls are constantly burning calories. They may need more paddock time, a window or a stall companion to help them calm down. If a horse lives in a pasture with other horses, then you need to be sure each horse is getting a fair share.
“Horse Owner’s Veterinary Handbook.” Thomas Gore, DVM, et al.; 2008
Pet Place. “Is Your Horse Too Thin?” Ann Compton. http://www.petplace.com/horses /is-your-horse-too-thin/page1. aspx
Ontario Minister of Agriculture. “Body Weight Estimation of Horses.” http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/en glish/livestock/horses/facts/9 8-093.htm