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Older horse eating well, but losing weight

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  • Older horse eating well, but losing weight

    There's a horse at my barn that's in his mid/ late twenties. He has started to lose a little weight. They upped his feed and he's eating more (he gets 8-9 flakes of hay and eats 7 or so and grain- I'm not certain on the details.) They tested him for worms and thought it looked fine. He's not quidding or anything like that. My BO and I were just discussing him and what she should try next. His poop is normal. Everything seems fine except recently he's started dropping some weight.

    So, what would be a cause of weight loss? (We're just starting to see his ribs a little and want to plump him up a bit before winter comes.) He has hay 24/7. We can up his grain (I'm guessing he's on senior, but forgot to ask- but that's one of the choices at the barn.) We were just wondering about causes of weight loss in otherwise healthy older horses.


  • #2
    When were his teeth last floated?


    • #3
      When were the teeth done and by who? When did the horse last het sand clear? When was the last powerpack?


      • #4
        After you rule out teeth problems; I would look into staring a Senior feed. Some have more fat than others, pick one with a higher fat content. Just switching to a Senior feed made a huge difference in my son's aged pony, he literally looked like a different pony in three weeks.


        • #5
          Going through the same thing with my older horse, have you tried adding rice bran? My old skinny horse is doing better now that she comes in for 1/2 the day, it gives her a chance to eat a good amount of hay without being chased around by the other horse. She lived for decades in a pasture with a shed, she needs her me time now.


          • #6
            Had the same experience with my old mare, age 25, though she was spreading her hay around and not getting it all eaten and had a mild bout or two of impaction colic.

            She turned out to have a pedunculated tumor in her intestine - a fatty tumor basically, hanging from a stem like a punching bag, that was wrapped around her intestines and which eventually did her in. It was palpable by the vet when it got large enough, and I'm sure would have been operable if there had been a nearby place to do surgery and she had been in a trailer in the prior 23 years.

            By the time we caught it, it was too late.


            • #7
              Originally posted by yellow-horse View Post
              Going through the same thing with my older horse, have you tried adding rice bran? My old skinny horse is doing better now that she comes in for 1/2 the day, it gives her a chance to eat a good amount of hay without being chased around by the other horse. She lived for decades in a pasture with a shed, she needs her me time now.
              Yup. Same here except mine did the chasing . Now he gets alfalfa, timothy, pound beet pulp, senior and ricebran. He is plumping back up. He is given a lot right now to get him back on track.
              Come to the dark side, we have cookies


              • #8
                You might also look into giving him a probiotic, or at least be sure there is some included in whatever feed he's getting. As they get older their digestive system is less efficient. Most senior feeds are successful for putting weight on a horse because they include higher fat and a probiotic.
                Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
                Witherun Farm


                • #9
                  Our vet says she notices more old horses losing weight in the summer, when the weather is hot and the flies are bad, than in winter some years. Consider that he might be burning off more calories moving around to avoid the flies and catch a breeze, and the pastures aren't providing as much actual nutrition this late in the season.

                  That said, I've noticed there seems to be a tipping point for some older horses where all of a sudden the easy keepers aren't so easy to keep any more. It's hard to pinpoint why - for some it's probably latent infections, others maybe it's Cushing's, or malabsorption, or who knows what. Good for you for catching it before it got really bad.

                  Concrete suggestions: a fly sheet? more small meals? higher calorie feed = alfalfa instead of grass hay, senior feed with maybe some oil or other high fat substance added? Beet pulp if you think he's not eating hay well any more?


                  • #10
                    Last fall we had the old guy's teeth done and dewormed him and he actually gained weight over the winter. We dewormed him again in the Spring but once the weather got hot he stopped eating his breakfast and it sat in his bucket and fermented, and of course he was even less interested. He got pretty thin there, and with the Cushing's his topline is pretty sad anyway. I wonder if the gut in older horses is less able to absorb nutrients, all other things such as teeth and worm load being equal.
                    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
                    Incredible Invisible


                    • #11
                      A prebiotic like ration plus can help. Add in a probiotic and some fat and you should see a difference assuming all your other bases are covered like teeth and worming.
                      McDowell Racing Stables

                      Home Away From Home


                      • #12
                        Good point about summer, every old horse I've put down has been in July.
                        The old girl I posted about earlier in this thread has cushings, the balance between keeping weight on her and her foundering is a delicate one but I did tell her I would not let her die a bag of bones worried about her cushings and ir, i will feed her to be a normal weight, if she founders, i will put her down rather than restrict her feed. At this point she needs all the feed she gets. She's somewhere over 30 years old and while yes I know they're animals and I don't try to put human feelings on her but by golly if I'm in my 90's and want salt on my fries, they better give it to me.


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks everyone! I hope it's just the summer. There are some complications with the owner right now going through a tough spot. She definitely still wants what's best for her horse, but has been not been able to be super actively involved, so we're just trying to keep an extra eye on him to allow her to focus on other issues right now. I'll pass all of these past the BO. I appreciate your thoughts! He is the sweetest old guy ever and we just want to make sure he goes into winter in tip top condition. He does have a girl who's coming out and brushing him and loving on him too.


                          • #14
                            Have you tried Alfalfa Dengie or soaked hay cubes? Our old guy always struggles in August. Alfalfa Dengie, green alfalfa and grass hay, and a beet pulp based feed (Purine Equine Senior mixed with Omolene 400) is what works for him.


                            • #15

                              PERHAPS DUE TO THE HEAT & HUMIDITY

                              HE WILL PROBABLY PICK UP ONCE IT COOLS DOWN ...

                              JINGLES & AO
                              Zu Zu Bailey " IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE ! "


                              • #16
                                Test him for Cushings. You can run an insulin at CSU pretty inexpensively, and that can give you a good idea.


                                • #17
                                  older horses go through changes in their digestive systems which inhibit their ability to absorb nutrients. Good reference is here:


                                  malabsorbption is most common and can be treated with commercial products to add to feed such as "digest aid" but your vet has to draw blood to properly diagnose if it is this or maldigestion.

                                  I started giving my guy soaked alfalfa pellets after rides as a treat and to boost his calorie intake. He is staying in the barn (he has in & out priveleges) on his own choice much of the day to avoid the sun & flies and be under his fan. Plus grass was down due to lack of rain.

                                  It is something to work with your vet- an ounce of prevention et al
                                  Appy Trails,
                                  Kathy, Cadet & CCS Silinde
                                  member VADANoVA www.vadanova.org


                                  • #18
                                    I am going through the same thing at my barn. I am the BO, and all the horses are in very good weight and coat, a little sunbleached but all happy and maybe a little overweight.

                                    Have one OTTB that is a 2 on the scale and it just freaks me out. He is only 20, yes I know he has had a hard life (raced till he was 6, then dressage 3rd level to eventer) and his owner keeps telling me he's old and he's had a rough life and he's a TB.

                                    Well, I know that older doesn't mean skinny, nor does TB mean skinny. And because he's been ridden hard doesn't mean skinny (bad joints and arthritic, yes).

                                    He gets senior feed with regular feed and oats with oil and lots of salt (he doesn't drink as much as I would like and I know that can make a horse drop weight also) and he's on pasture 24/7 (only place he is happy, stall him and he's a weaving sweating mess! Poor guy!)

                                    I used to add beet pulp but didn't notice any difference.

                                    He is on a regular rotation of wormer.

                                    I've asked the owner (several times) to please have blood drawn to see what is wrong and what I should do different (maybe cushions? Maybe not absorbing? He has a voratious appetite!) but to no avail. She says he's fine and he looks good. I think he is ribby with sunken flanks and his backbone to his tail is showing.

                                    His teeth have been recently floated and I have tried probiotics. He also is lively and had plenty of energy and isn't "down" or anything like that. If it wasn't for his weight you would think he was in perfect health!

                                    Any suggestions?
                                    Last edited by Chardavej; Aug. 22, 2011, 05:25 PM. Reason: Added teeth floated
                                    I want a signature but I have nothing original to say except: "STHU and RIDE!!!

                                    Wonderful COTHER's I've met: belleellis, stefffic, snkstacres and janedoe726.


                                    • #19
                                      My horse lost a lot of weight this summer, too. He's not that old, 16 years, and has been retired for 4 due to injury. It's normal for him to lose some weight in the early summer when the mosquitoes are at their worst. He'll walk paths in his paddock until he's sweaty and not eat unless he's got a fly sheet and mask on, but even then he tends to lose weight until the August at which point the bugs drop and he puts weight back on. This has been the norm for the last 6 years...

                                      ...until this year. Now it's late August and he's skinniest I've ever seen him. He had his teeth done in April, is up to date on deworming (I dewormed him 2 weeks ago), he's top horse in the paddock, and there's no reason for him to be so skinny...until I was out at the barn one day to bring him in for the farrier. The BO tossed one flake to each of the horses in the paddock (2 others plus mine) and I brought my guy in for a trim. 20 minutes later, I put him back outside and saw that the horse he likes best had not only finished all HIS hay, but had already eaten half of my guy's. I turned out my horse, expecting him to chase the other one away from his hay, but instead they happily "shared" it...which meant the fast eating horse ate most of it.

                                      Obviously this is had been happening most of the summer. A little 15hh QH was eating the rations of my 16.2 warmblood...no wonder little QH was borderline obese!

                                      The BO changed horses and now another slow eater is in with my guy. He's getting a new mixture of alfalfa-timothy hay (9-12 flakes a day) and his grain rations are 12% complete feed (I'm going to get senior next time), a high fat/fibre supplement called Equine Power 2000, and half a cup of canola. I'm about to add BOSS this week, as well. He seems to be looking better after 2 weeks on grain and one week actually being able to eat his own hay.

                                      Also, I'm not sure how cold the nights are getting where you are, but here some nights are already dropping close to zero so I'm putting a sheet on my horse while he's unable to stay warm due to lack of fat reserves. Hoping you get weight on him soon!


                                      • #20
                                        Going through the same thing right now with 2 mares, 1 is 16 and 1 is 19. We are talking horses that have been obese for so long it causes me to freak when I see a hint of ribs. The oldest mare is IR and it really IS a balancing act. Get weight on her and pray she doesn't founder, or let her stay skinny and STILL pray she doesn't founder. It's really frustrating. My girls are the same, teeth done, deworming and fecals done, they are on both prebiotics AND probiotics in their vitamin supp an they are out 24/7 on pasture. On the oldest mare she started dropping weight big time in the winter where I had never had problems before. That started about 2 years ago. This year she just didn't pick up weight in the spring how she normally does. She acts normal, acts like she feels great and I like to see a 'hint' of ribs, but gosh, I feel like she's aging right before my eyes