Researcher Warns of Obesity Risks in Horses

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Why are our horses so fat these days? Researchers at several veterinary colleges and equine science centers around the country are turning their attention to what can be done to both slim down our overweight horses and figure out how they get that way in the first place.

Philip Johnson BVSc, MS, MRCVS, professor of veterinary medicine and surgery at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying obesity in horses for several years, and is particularly concerned with links between obesity and the risk of laminitis.

Part of the problem, Johnson feels, is genetically-altered feed. Grasses and hays available on the market are meant for food animals such as cows, genetically enhanced to promote quick weight gain.

"When you're feeding cattle, you want them to grow heavy fast," Johnson said. "But the cattle have a shorter life span. When horses get the same kinds of grass and hay, the effects of obesity are long-term health issues."

According to Johnson, the genetics of horses, like many species,allows for the extra storing of fat in preparation for winter,when there is typically less food available. In nature, horses would eat less in the winter and lose the weight by spring. Under human care, horses are fed generously year round and never lose the extra weight.

Read a complete article on Dr. Johnson's views on laminitis and obesity posted on the University's web site.