Over­weight horses are the ‘new nor­mal’

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Kim­ber­ley Duf­fell

HALF of horses in the UK are over­weight be­cause own­ers have for­got­ten how to keep them healthy, equine vets have warned.

Ex­perts at the Bri­tish Equine Ve­teri­nary As­so­ca­tion said obe­sity was the gravest threat fac­ing horses, re­sult­ing in hun­dreds be­ing put down each year.

David Ren­dle, a mem­ber of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ethics and wel­fare com­mit­tees, said stud­ies showed around half of all UK horses are now over­weight, while re­search from the Royal Ve­teri­nary Col­lege found as much as 70 per cent of na­tive pony breeds were obese.

Horses with ex­cess weight are at risk of suf­fer­ing from lamini­tis, a po­ten­tially fa­tal con­di­tion caused by blood flow re­stric­tion to the hooves, which can cause swelling and in­flam­ma­tion. Around 600 horses a year are said to be eu­thanised as a re­sult of the dis­ease.

Mr Ren­dle said the obe­sity epi­demic was show­ing no signs of slow­ing be­cause horse and pony own­ers are now no longer ca­pa­ble of recog­nis­ing or de­ter­min­ing a healthy weight.

He said: “Over­weight has be­come nor­mal and horse own­ers no longer ap­pre­ci­ate what a healthy horse should look like. Show horses are of­ten obese, so this is what peo­ple as­pire to.”

It comes after Joe Mackinder, an­other equine vet, told Horse and Hound last year that horses ad­mit­ted to his York­shire-based prac­tice were get­ting “pro­gres­sively fat­ter and fat­ter”.

Dr Mark Kennedy, a se­nior RSPCA man­ager, warned horses with lamini­tis re­mained at risk even if the dis­ease is iden­ti­fied and treated at an early stage. He said: “Once a horse gets lamini­tis, it’s more prone to it. If a horse is over­weight, it’s al­ways at a greater risk.”

Equine vets said horses had evolved to lose weight in the winter and re­gain it by spring but im­prove­ments to land meant an­i­mals were still able to graze, halt­ing any nat­u­ral weight loss.

Sam Chub­bock, from the World Horse Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion, said that mod­ern prac­tices such as putting rugs on horses dur­ing winter in order to keep them warm had in­hib­ited their abil­ity to ef­fi­ciently burn calo­ries by us­ing en­ergy in cold weather.

“Over­weight horses and ponies con­tinue to be one of the most press­ing chal­lenges fac­ing our equine pop­u­la­tion,” she said.

“We ad­vise own­ers to mon­i­tor their horses’ weight reg­u­larly, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of weight tap­ing and body con­di­tion or fat scor­ing.”

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