EQUUS - - Eq Handson -

While peo­ple may worry about put­ting on a few ex­tra pounds dur­ing the win­ter thanks to in­ac­tiv­ity and hearty meals, cold weather tends to have the op­po­site ef­fect on horses. In fact, win­ter weight loss can be such a sig­nif­i­cant health is­sue---par­tic­u­larly for old-timers ---that you’ll want to watch for it as the tem­per­a­tures drop.

A horse may lose weight when his me­tab­o­lism ramps up to keep him warm---es­pe­cially if he is al­ready thin and has less fatty in­su­la­tion from the cold. But the weight loss may go un­no­ticed, hid­den un­der blan­kets that aren’t re­moved daily, and by the time it is de­tected it can be dif­fi­cult to re­verse. In­stead, it’s far bet­ter to pre­vent win­ter weight loss. Here are the steps to take:

• En­sure your horse en­ters the sea­son with a body con­di­tion score be­tween 4 and 6. If your horse has a his­tory of drop­ping weight in win­ter, err on keep­ing him a lit­tle heav­ier. Ide­ally, you’d be­gin “watch­ing his weight” in early fall to al­low am­ple time to ad­just his diet if needed.

• Re­move blan­kets daily. If you don’t take the blan­ket off en­tirely, at least pull it back to get a good view of your horse’s flanks and topline. Not only are you look­ing for weight loss, but also for blan­ket rubs and skin dis­eases.

• Use your hands to gauge your horse’s con­di­tion. As you groom, run your hand over your horse’s body, feel­ing for changes in his con­di­tion. Ribs, hips and the tail-head can be par­tic­u­larly telling lo­ca­tions when it comes to weight loss. If it be­comes eas­ier to feel the bones un­der­neath, sus­pect your horse has dropped at least a few pounds.

• Pro­vide free-choice hay. Roughage like hay is a “slow-burn” feed, mean­ing it re­leases a meta­bolic heat over a long time, help­ing your horse stay warm. This can keep him from hav­ing to burn ex­ces­sive calo­ries to ward off the cold.

• Blan­ket wisely. If you ever find your horse shiv­er­ing, he is cold and needs more pro­tec­tion. If he’s not blan­keted, put one on him. If he is wear­ing a blan­ket, find a heav­ier one or add an­other layer. Over-blan­ket­ing can be just as prob­lem­atic, though, so check him again in a few hours to make sure he’s not sweat­ing un­der­neath his new gear.

• Pro­vide more feed. Al­though this may seem like the very first step to take, it’s ac­tu­ally one to do once you’ve taken care of the other mea­sures. In­creased calo­ries from ad­di­tional feed will help a horse main­tain or gain weight, but only when he’s prop­erly pro­tected from the el­e­ments and oth­er­wise healthy. Talk to your ve­teri­nar­ian about mak­ing any sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in grain ra­tion to make sure you avoid a car­bo­hy­drate over­load that could trig­ger lamini­tis .

By Chris­tine Barakat with Melinda Freck­le­ton, DVM

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