Determining What Causes Weight Loss in Horses

RHMequine.com knows that weight loss in horses is quite common. It can be frustrating, and an expensive struggle horse owners face. It occurs when the body uses more energy than it’s taking in, which can happen for a variety of reasons.

Yvette Nout-Lomas, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVECC, assistant professor of equine internal medicine at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, provides an outline for pinpointing and addressing causes of weight loss in horses.

Causes of Weight Loss

Weight loss typically occurs for one of six reasons:

  1. Lack of access to appropriate food
  2. Lack of ingestion of available nutrients
  3. Abnormal digestion, absorption, or metabolism of nutrients
  4. Inadequate delivery of nutrients to peripheral tissues
  5. Increased rate of protein and energy use or loss
  6. Primary muscle wasting disorders

 

Horses might not ingest available nutrients if they lack appetite, if they have inadequate ability to grasp food, or have abnormal chewing, swallowing, or esophageal transit.

Heart failure, liver disease, and asthma all can result in decreased nutrient delivery to peripheral tissues. Gastrointestinal dysfunction such as gastric ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, parasitism, liver disease, and toxicities can lead to abnormal digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients as well.

Even conditions that don’t directly affect nutrient availability can result in weight loss. Horses that are in pain and suffering various disease states, for instance, might have an increased rate of protein and energy use and loss, resulting in greater-than-expected calorie needs.

Finding the Cause

First, determine the horse’s use and age, as these factors are important when assessing diet. Certain age groups are at greater risk than others for certain conditions, such as dental and musculoskeletal disease in aged horses. Evaluate the horse’s diet to determine whether the owner is providing an appropriate feed in a suitable amount.

The key is to determine whether the horse is receiving adequate calories. However, it is important to verify that the horse is, indeed, consuming feed.

A veterinarian should conduct a thorough physical examination, paying particular attention to temperature, pulse, and respiration and noting any abnormal heart or lung sounds. He or she should assess the horse’s muscling as well as overall body condition score and look for the presence of dependent edema (lower limb swelling). The vet should also note whether the horse has diarrhea and consider performing bloodwork.

The results of these initial investigations will guide what ancillary diagnostics the veterinarian performs. For example, a horse with an elevated respiratory rate and abnormal lung sounds should warrant further respiratory tract investigation. The veterinarian might collect fecal samples to assess fiber length and conduct a fecal egg count to determine worm burden. He or she can pass a nasogastric tube to easily assess swallowing and whether an esophageal stricture might be limiting food from reaching the stomach.

Nout-Lomas encouraged clinicians to consider all possible mechanisms of weight loss and to base ancillary testing on signalment (age, breed, gender), history, and examination findings. She shared that in a study of horses presenting weight loss, 93% did receive a diagnosis. Most were suffering from parasitism (30%) and dental disorders (20%). Digestive causes and those resulting from kidney and liver diseases were far less common.

It is good to know exactly what to be looking for if you see a horse showing signs of weight loss. This information should greatly help any horse owners. Now is the time to look into the best saddle store online has the best arrangement of equine blankets, English saddles, Western saddles, English saddle pads, Western saddle pads, as well as feeding and watering supplies on RHMEquine.com. If you are shopping on this website, you are already halfway there.

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