Overweight horses are the ‘new normal’
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.”