There are many reasons why horses are underweight. The food itself may not be the whole problem – bad teeth can make chewing painful for the horse, cause the horse to swallow poorly chewed food, or cause it to chew very slowly. Endoparasites may also steal nutrients from your horse and damage the digestive tract.
If your horse is underweight, make sure it has a recent fecal check for parasites, and have its teeth checked by a veterinarian before simply adding more feed.
Make sure other horses are not preventing your horse from getting food and that external pests such as biting bugs are not causing it to burn energy for relief. Your veterinarian may also want to test your horse’s blood to make sure his internal organs are functioning properly. Once you’ve eliminated all of these reasons for your horse’s underweight, take a look at the food you’re giving it.
Best Feed for Underweight Horses
The best feed for underweight horses is good quality hay or pasture.Give him free choice of hay unless there is some medical reason (like metabolic syndrome, founder (also known as laminitis) or Cushing’s disease) not to. Introduce horses to grass gradually to reduce the chance of founders, colic or diarrhea. Many horses do well only on grass or hay. More hay in the feeder or longer grazing time may be all it takes to see weight gain.
However, some horses, such as growing horses, heavily trained horses, pregnant or nursing mares, or old/sick horses, require more calories than hay or pasture can provide. Alfalfa and other legume hay are higher in protein and some minerals such as calcium. It may be necessary to feed these types of hay to underweight horses. Take your time when introducing any new feed to the horse, even if it’s “just hay.”
Extra Feed for Skinny Horses
Beet pulp is often fed as a supplement because it is rich in fiber, which horses can convert into energy.Some people like to feed their horses pellets because they find it easier to digest. Older horses may digest “cooked” grains more easily than regular grains, so specially prepared premium feeds may help. For horses with bad teeth, smaller pellets or grains are easier to chew than larger pellets or cubes. Rice bran and flax are also popular additions to the diet of underweight horses.
Oils such as bran, rice, corn, flax, and other grain oils are commonly used to increase energy and calories in horse feed. Some people believe that they also help keep the horse’s skin healthy and its coat shiny. Be careful when adding these oils to your horse’s diet; too much oil in your diet can cause diarrhea.
Whenever you change the amount of concentrate, do it gradually to reduce the chance of problems like founder or colic. You can also use weight tape to estimate your horse’s weight. Repeat the weight tape two weeks after changing the diet. Record these numbers and measure your horse’s weight regularly. If you do not see the expected changes, consult your veterinarian and/or equine nutritionist.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your veterinarian right away. For health-related questions, be sure to consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know your pet’s health history, and can give your pet the best advice.