Winter diet check for older horses

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Winter may still be weeks away, but now is the time to adjust your older horse’s diet to help prepare him for the cold weather ahead. There are two simple ways determine if changes are needed.

old guy

First, consider his body condition. It’s not unusual for an older horse to lose a bit of weight during the winter months as he naturally burns more calories to keep himself warm. If your horse is already on the lean side of the body condition scale, a score of 4 or lower, he doesn’t have any extra to lose. Determining your horse’s body condition score isn’t difficult---it entails looking at and feeling the fat deposits on specific locations on your horse’s body---but it does require an unbiased eye. If your older horse is underweight, there’s time to put some weight on him before the weather turns cold.

Consult with your veterinarian about ways you can safely increase his energy intake now. That may mean switching to calorie-dense senior feed or adding oil or another supplement to his existing ration.

Next, schedule a dental exam. If it’s been more than six months since your older horse has had his teeth checked, it’s a good idea to have them looked at again. When pasture growth stops for the year, your horse’s only source of roughage will be hay, and if he has worn or loose teeth he may have trouble chewing. This can lead not only to weight loss in an older horse but also choke and colic. Your veterinarian may be able to resolve any dental issues discovered during the examination, but even then it might be advisable to switch the horse to a chopped, cubed or pelleted forage or to a complete feed that contains adequate roughage.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #468, September 2016.

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