There are many reasons for why a horse might be underweight, such as the individual’s metabolism, a nervous or excitable character, underlying health conditions or a dental issue. Consulting a veterinarian and equine dentist is important as your horse’s weight loss may not be solely rooted in nutrition.
Underweight and overweight horses are vulnerable to a range of health risks. Horses that are substantially below a healthy weight have an increased risk of poor immunity, disease and injury. Establishing a feeding and management plan with the help of an equine nutritionist is essential for helping an underweight horse return to a healthy weight.
How Do You Help a Horse Gain Weight?
The approach you take to helping your horse to increase their weight depends on their individual circumstances. It is beneficial to monitor your horse’s weight on a weekly basis to ensure that they are gaining weight or not gaining weight too quickly. If you don’t have access to a weighbridge then a weigh tape can be useful alongside condition scoring. Encouraging weight gain should be a gradual, slow process.
In order for a horse to gain weight they need to simply be consuming more calories than they are using. This can be achieved by adjusting their diet.
How to Adjust Your Horse’s Diet
Consider the Forage
Start by considering the type and quantity of forage being provided. Grazing in the spring often provides enough excess calories for many horses to gain weight. If this isn’t the case for your horse or grazing isn’t available, changes in forage quantity and type maybe required.
Ideally forage should be provided ad lib. If your horse is stabled overnight, there should always be a small amount of forage left in their stable in the morning and you may need to provide additional forage in the field if grazing is poor. Choose a forage that is high in energy, such as an early cut haylage like Ryegrass HorseHage.
With forage making up the majority of the diet, a change to a higher calorie option can have more effect than introducing or increasing a concentrate feed. Be sure to introduce any changes in forage slowly as you would with a new bucket feed to ensure the microflora in the gut have time to adjust.
Introduce a Bucket Feed
If you find that your horse still isn’t gaining weight following the increase or change in forage, you may need to consider introducing a bucket feed. Look for feeds that are high in digestible fibre and avoid those that are high in starch. Some compound feeds contain additional oil which can assist with weight gain.
Mollichaff Condition Complete is a palatable blend containing highly digestible, high fibre, high oil and low starch ingredients to encourage weight gain. Split bucket feeds into as many portions as possible, ideally 3 or 4, and feed throughout the day.
Remember Vitamins & Minerals
We highly recommend that all horses and ponies are provided with a vitamin and mineral source to ensure a balanced diet. This can be provided through a balancer, supplement or complete feed.
Oil can be a worthwhile addition to the diet of those that struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Oil is calorie dense and, although not abundantly present in their natural diets, is well utilised as an energy source by horses.
Digestive aids maybe beneficial for those that exhibit signs of gastric disturbances. You may also want to consider a digestive aid if your horse continually struggles with their weight. Mollichaff Condition Complete contains Yea-sacc® and a prebiotic to help maintain a healthy digestive system.
What Else Can You Do to Help Your Underweight Horse?
Reducing stress and keeping to a routine can all help to encourage weight gain and a health appetite. Practical changes such as feeding within sight, although not close to other horses, can encourage horses to eat. Feeding in close proximity to others can result in competition at feeding time and cause undesirable stress for the horse.
Give our friendly helpline team a call, Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, on 01803 527274 to discuss the suitability of HorseHage and Mollichaff products for your horse or pony.