Equine obesity

Equine obesity

DVMs in ideal position to educate clients about disease prevention, proper nutrition in overweight horses
May 01, 2004

Grain feed Reducing grain feed is at the core of most equine diets.

Many horse owners complain that their horses already consume "just a small handful." These horses are not receiving enough vitamins and minerals to satisfy their requirements and are at even more risk for problems.

Most horses should consume a diet that reduces energy while maintaining vitamin and mineral balance.

Newly available "lite" feeds provide this option.

"Most feeds are designed to provide balanced vitamins and minerals if fed at about 5 lbs./1,000 lbs. of body weight," says Dr. Marty Adams, Ph.D., of Southern States, a major feed company. "Our 'Triple Crown Lite' feed," continues Adams, "has a higher rate of vitamins and minerals so that the owner can drop the volume to 2 lbs./1,000 lbs. body weight and still provide adequate vitamin and mineral content, which is crucial if that owner is also restricting pasture exposure as part of a diet plan."

Many new reduced-energy feeds from other quality companies are coming on the market with similar approaches to weight reduction for the fat horse. These feeds are designed to allow the horse to eat enough grain to keep it behaviorally content while avoiding excess calories and still ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral intake.

As Dr. Bill Vandergrift, a Ph.D. nutritional consultant, writes, "The operative word in putting horses on diets is moderation. Take your time. Forcing your horse to lose weight too fast will make him hard to live with and can create metabolic problems."

Design a program and stick with it. Weight loss may take six months or more but it will occur if the approach is sound and the commitment is strong.

This is where veterinarians can do the most good and where education becomes important.

It would be nice to offer a new drug or procedure to treat obesity quickly and easily and most clients would prefer that as well (as evidenced by the approach to human weight loss by many people), but diet and exercise are still the best approach and must be stressed.

It is becoming clear that obesity is a developing problem in the equine population and that this disease can contribute to or cause a number of serious problems for horses. No one likes to diet and this goes for horses, too.

Veterinarians should provide the needed nutritional consulting, make dietary recommendations and design and support an exercise program.

Teach clients to evaluate their horse's body condition, monitor glucose and insulin levels when necessary and reassure clients that, in the long run, a thinner horse will be a happier, healthier one.