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Weight Loss in Older Horse - Need Suggestions!

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  • Weight Loss in Older Horse - Need Suggestions!

    My retired guy is about to have his 29th birthday. He's gotten to be a harder keeper as he's gotten older but he came through winter looking good for his age. However, all of the sudden he's starting to drop weight... This is within the last week or two. His hips are looking sunken and his spine is noticeably protruding more than it did just a couple of weeks ago. I'm especially worried because I have to leave for two week for training for my new job and will be two states away. My SO will be caring for him while I'm away and is good about following my directions but lacks the educated eye to see minor things that might indicate a decline in his health. I'm hoping you guys might have some ideas for packing on some pounds so I can get my SO set up with feed before I leave. I'm going to call my vet tomorrow as well but would greatly appreciate any ideas on what to do.

    Here's his current routine:

    2 - 3 large flakes of hay in morning and evening - enough to keep him in hay all day/night. He never finishes all of his hay.

    Grain (I'll have to measure weights again as I can't remember what they weighed out to):

    12 cups of soaked Beet Pulp (post soaking amount)
    5 cups of Rolled Oats.
    5 Cups of Senior Feed - equivalent to Purina Senior.
    This week I've started adding 2 Cups Rice Bran (working on upping this - he didn't want to eat it if the ratio of bran to beet pulp & grain was to high).

    He has a separate bucket with a Himalayan sea salt block.

    I am thinking about adding a calorie supplement (Cool Calories) before I leave. He was on this previously but hasn't been for the last three or four months.

    He also has 24 hour access to his pasture. There is grass but it's pretty overgrazed and very short at the moment. He was previously on the dry lot for the winter w/ no access to grass. I've working him onto turnout over the last couple of weeks.

    The vet was out for routine shots/floating last month. Teeth are good, still has all of them and nothing was rotten or causing pain. He's had no trouble chewing that I can tell and when she visited she said his weight looked great.

    He does have bouts of diarrhea off an on but not for extended periods of time and in checking his stall, paddock, and field he appears to be fine right now.

    Farrier is going to be seeing him on Wednesday. He's generally very sound but has been slightly sore on the right front since this past weekend with what I am 99% positive is a stone bruise. I'm doubting these are related but I'm just trying to think of anything different lately.

  • #2
    Do you have access to Triple Crown Senior? It's higher in fat and beet pulp based, so you may be able to use it in place of several of the items you're currently using.

    My 18 year old was losing weight back in the winter, and in January I switched her to 5 lb TC Senior, 1-2 lb alfalfa pellets, and 1 lb rice bran pellets (per day), plus all the grass hay she could eat. I was shocked at how quickly she regained all her lost weight and more. I stopped the alfalfa pellets and rice bran after a month/month and a half and she's been on only the TC Senior since. In fact, now that the grass has come in, I think she's getting a bit too chubby and I'll probably switch back to a ration balancer for the summer...

    But anyway, if you can get it, highly recommend TC Senior.
    *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*


    • #3
      I had my 29 year old on senior, and if you actually look at the fat % in senior feeds, they aren't super high. I switched my girl to Buckeye's Cadence Ultra which has 14% fat, and she blossomed! She eats a scoop less, and actually has better weight this year than last. If you can't get it, that TC senior sounds good...just research feeds with a higher fat content. Also, for my senior girl, I soak every meal just to encourage her to eat every drop and minimize the chance of choke.
      Cornerstone Equestrian
      Home of Amazing (Balou du Rouet/Voltaire) 2005 KWPN Stallion
      RPSI, KWPN reg B, and IHF nominated


      • #4
        You should chat with your vet if weight is suddenly dropping. Old horses tend to drop slowly and over winter is typical. Suddenly can be a different story.

        How long ago was the horse wormed? And with what?

        Old horse lose their ability to use forage as they age and not just from aging teeth. Probiotics may help. Changing to higher quality hay (more alfalfa and less grass). Or upping the amount of senior feed or beet pulp can also help.

        Grain- what grain and in what form (such as crimped vs rolled oats)? If your feeding whole oats and your horse's poop sprouts like Chia Pets.....well not much use there.

        If you take some poop and put it in a big ziploc with water and shake it up and let it sit. Warning- Shake carefully! Do the same for a youger horse. Once the fibers separate note if there is any sand on the bottom. Sand can really cause older horses weight issues. Also observe fiber size and what is being past in the way of undigested feed vs the younger horse. If very different it is really time to start feeding this horse like a senior. If not so different the easiest way to increase calories to a horse is adding oil. I use 2 cups a day on my hard keeper.


        • #5
          If he is not finishing all his hay? Maybe you need to start there? He may be having issues with coarse stems or maybe it's the other way and too fine or leafy-he may be doing well for his age but he does not have the mouth of a youngster. That might also be why he has a little trouble with the rice bran in higher quantities, he can't get it down as well as a younger horse.

          Don't think adding calories via a supplement is any substitute for just getting them via better hay-so he can finish it- and a better grain alternative.

          Remember, calories in versus calories out, he is not getting enough in your current feed program.

          Have you considered soaked alfalfa cubes? Just a few twice a day can work wonders for seniors. And ditto the TC Senior. It will cost more but it's more efficient to keep your old guy in decent weight.
          When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

          The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


          • #6
            My first thought would be to draw blood for a Cushing's test. My friend has an older gelding, who also was a relatively easy keeper for an older guy, and this past winter he dropped weight in a few week's time - he has Cushings. It would be a good place to start, and then develop his diet from there.
            "If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple payments..."


            • #7
              sounds like hes just not getting enough feed. switch to a higher quality senior feed (triple crown) and try feeding 5lbs instead of cups and dont be afraid to up it if needed. feed is ment to be fed in pounds not cups, so for the ammount hes getting its likely hes lacking in calories and nutrionally aswell.

              unless he has access to grass my 21 yr old gelding gets nearly 8lbs of high fat feed on top of free choice hay to maintian a good weight. a few years ago he needed much less grain even when in regular work.


              • Original Poster

                Thanks all for your suggestions. I talked to my vet and I went to the feed store today. They don't carry Triple Crown but we went through the nutritional labels and found something comparable. I also picked up the Cool 100 supplement he was on previously since that really helped beef him up a few years when he started losing some weight and a Pro-Biotic supplement to help digestion. I've increased the beet pulp and rice bran, both soaked (as they were previously as well) per my vets suggestion and will be working the new grain into his diet. Eventually I'll probably replace the senior.

                He was just wormed recently with Ivermectin so that shouldn't be an issue. I have him on a high quality grass hay which he does eat, I just wish he'd eat more. Unfortunately I don't think Alfalfa is an option for us. I've tried to add it on multiple occasions in the past and no matter how slowly we work it in it gives him horrible diarrhea. With the weight loss at the moment I just don't feel like we can risk more digestive issues.

                I'm going to measure everything out tomorrow for my SO to feed on Thurs and Fri while I'm away and will check him when I get home on Fri night. We'll have the vet out if he looks worse. I have to leave again on Monday morning so my plan is to take pictures of him on Monday before I head to the airport and then have my SO take pics for me every other day so that I can monitor while I'm gone and get the vet out if anything heads downhill. Feeling a little better now that we have a plan but I'm still going to be worried while I'm away.


                • #9
                  My 28 yr old geezer could not chew hay this winter, I added soaked alfalfa cubes. For his grain, he did not think that Senior grain was acceptable (I use Triple Crown senior) He thought it was too mushy to be real food and looked at it with disdain. He basically refused to eat it. (he as always been a difficult eater, unusual in a Holsteiner) I finally got him to eat a mix of TC senior, really tasty sweet feed (even if he could not chew it and it dropped on the floor, it made him think the other stuff was reall food) rice bran powder (he could not chew the pelleted form) and lots (a cup or more daily) corn oil.


                  • #10
                    you also could try soaked timothy cubes or pellets


                    • #11
                      Try the new "Active Senior", from Purina. It's FABULOUS for putting weight on. I've been really impressed with it!
                      Making Your Ambitions a Reality at Secret Ambition Stables.
                      Quality Welsh Ponies and Welsh Crosses bred for sport
                      Facebook Page.
                      Section A and Section B Welsh Ponies at stud


                      • #12
                        When my older gelding lost weight all of a sudden like this we tested for Cushings. Bingo.
                        Significant weight loss over a couple of weeks time with no changes in feed, work, etc. is a real red flag that there is something wrong, as opposed to just needing more calories.
                        "The captive bolt is not a proper tool for slaughter of equids they regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck fully aware they are being vivisected." Dr Friedlander DVM & frmr Chief USDA Insp


                        • #13
                          I switched my 28 year old TB from Purina Senior and put him on Seminole Senior and he is blossoming! Not too mention I love the smell of the feed-ok too much information


                          • #14
                            We've got a large family of Senior horses here, and if any of them are ever going to noticeably lose weight, they invariably do it between February and April. In some of them, around 28+ it can become an annual "thing." Teeth are important, but you've already ruled that out. Have the Cushing's test, too, but we've never come up with one among the harder keepers; tends to be ponies, Morgans, Friesians here.

                            2 things we've figured out that work for us:

                            Lots of times they'll refuse feed/hay in favor of grazing when the grass isn't really sufficient yet to support them. While they "sprain their lips" for a quarter inch, the weight will melt off. Solution: "Hay Stretcher," or what I like to call "Hay Cookies." Everybody loves the stuff and it keeps the weight on 'til the pasture comes in.

                            Panacur Powerpac. Particularly if the winter season has been wet, sometimes one or two individuals in the herd will seem to get a boatload of worms; even if fecals are negative, even if nobody else is affected. For sixty bucks, let it rip. They can look really crummy and be back up to fat and shiny in no time after the 5-day cleanout.

                            Good luck,

                            Swamp Yankee


                            • #15
                              I agree about testing for Cushings. My tall warmblood / TB didn't have the long curly coat, and never has been an easy keeper, but the muscle mass loss had my vet tell me " let's just see about Cushings" Sure enough, he tested very positive. He had those " sunken hips" you are seeing in your guy.

                              Now can anyone tell me good tricks for getting that Prascend down his hatch.? The pill hidden in the apple worked for a while, now he is suspicious and I don't think the pill hidden in the carrot is going to work much longer either


                              • #16
                                With my ancient pony I made sure he had pelleted feed in his bucket all the time. His teeth were very poor and worn down so he would eat small bites here and there and could eat when he pleased. For a small pony he went through a very large amount of feed. I think their bodies become less efficient at processing the nutrients so it takes more in and more is wasted out.

                                He reached a point were he made more of a mess with his hay than anything else. I soaked alfalfa cubes for him and relied on beet pulp alot as a hay substitute but still made hay available for him to gum.

                                I would say over the last 5 years I spent more $$$$ feeding him a month than I did on all three of my other horses. It was truly a challenge at times. Keep trying things until you find something that works for you.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Angeline View Post

                                  Now can anyone tell me good tricks for getting that Prascend down his hatch.? The pill hidden in the apple worked for a while, now he is suspicious and I don't think the pill hidden in the carrot is going to work much longer either
                                  Stick it in a fig newton. I've never used Prascend, but the fig newton has never let me down for giving pills.
                                  *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Angeline View Post
                                    I agree about testing for Cushings. My tall warmblood / TB didn't have the long curly coat, and never has been an easy keeper, but the muscle mass loss had my vet tell me " let's just see about Cushings" Sure enough, he tested very positive. He had those " sunken hips" you are seeing in your guy.

                                    Now can anyone tell me good tricks for getting that Prascend down his hatch.? The pill hidden in the apple worked for a while, now he is suspicious and I don't think the pill hidden in the carrot is going to work much longer either
                                    My vet has her lab compound any strong-tasting meds with peppermint Altoids. It's awesome! The Altoids are strong enough even to mask Doxycycline powder, and the horses all love it.