Weight Management for Underweight Horses Overweight horses are grabbing all the headlines, but horses that tend to be very thin can also be a major headache for their owners.  While obesity is clearly to be avoided, there is such a thing as too thin. Horses that are underweight have reduced performance capacity, reduced immunity, less tolerance for cold, reduced fertility and poor physical reserves in the face of a serious injury, illness or major surgery. They are at increased risk of side effects from even common things that are normally distributed to the fat tissue such as vitamins A or D and moxidectin. If the horse has developed trouble holding weight as a new issue, with the usual offenders of dental issues or parasites taken care of, you need to involve your veterinarian to rule out a serious disease as the cause.  Some things are very treatable, like PPID/Cushings, which is  a common cause of unexplained weight loss in older horses. When the horse is otherwise healthy, low weight is a nutrition and digestion issue.  The place to start when weight gain is needed is free choice hay.  Hay racks or nets will reduce waste so you can gauge intake more accurately. The average adult at maintenance or light work needs to be eating about 2% of body weight in hay per day.  If the horse is eating this much or more, and won't increase further, it's time for other measures. Senior horses often have poor chewing force even if their teeth look good. They will do well on soft grass but not hay, even if there is no quidding. The solution here is to use hay cubes or pellets, well soaked, and soak all other feed as well. This makes it much easier to chew and digest. Otherwise, things to try include:
  • The horse needs both adequate calories and adequate protein to hold a normal weight.  If hay is of questionable quality, add a few pounds of alfalfa for a protein boost.  If hay crude protein is adequate, an essential amino acid supplement is good insurance.  Lysine is most often deficient, followed by methionine and threonine
  • Reasonable amounts of fat are a good way to add calories without excessive bulk because fat is more calorie dense than carbohydrate, fiber or protein.  The Uckele Coco-EQ line gives you many options. The original CocoSoya is an incredibly palatable oil that will also ensure the horse eats all meals well.  CocoOmega  can be used to boost intake of omega-3s when horses are not on pasture. CocoSun uses a special high oleic acid sunflower oil to produce a blend which does not add more omega-6 to the diet. Most horses can have up to 8 oz/day but do not exceed 4 oz in horses with insulin problems.
  • Older horses, horses with a history of intestinal problems or surgery, and horses with erratic appetites may benefit from support of digestive efficiency from supplements with generous levels of probiotic yeast and bacteria with digestive enzymes.  This helps them extract as much nutrition as possible from their food.
It takes some experimentation, but with perseverance you can get your hard keeper to a healthy weight. Tri-Amino helps maintain strong muscles, healthy weight, and supports a healthy topline with the three most essential amino acids. Lysine aids in bone health and immune function. Methionine plays a role in the synthesis of structural proteins, especially hooves and connective tissues, and hair and mane coat. Threonine aids in healthy immune function. Absorb All is a high strength digestive formula to support healthy gut and digestive function. Supports the intestinal tract to help maintain healthy gut flora, proper gut pH, and to promote digestion and bowel health. Combines high levels of digestive enzymes, beneficial Probiotics, and microbial fermentation ingredients. The CocoEQ Family CocoSoya provides a healthy fat and cool-calorie energy source to build and maintain healthy weight while supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Promotes a healthy skin, a glossy coat and excellent body condition. Helps to keep hooves nourished and moisturized by supporting the waterproof barrier. CocoSoya Oil is a unique blend of coconut oil and unrefined, cold-pressed Soybean Oil. CocoSoya Granular is a 30% fat supplement that combines Cocosoya Oil, stabilized Flax Seed Meal, and stabilized Rice Bran that provides all the same benefits of the Oil, but in a convenient granular form. CocoSun is a non-GMO and soy free formula with all-natural ingredients. Promotes a shiny coat and provides a cool-calorie energy source to build and maintain healthy weight without a blood sugar rise. This rich source of Omega 3, 6, and 9 also provides support for healthy inflammatory responses, fat metabolism, cardiovascular, and brain function. With fatty acids from extra virgin, high oleic, cold pressed Sunflower Oil, organic, extra virgin Coconut Oil, and Vitamin E from Sunflower Seeds. Omega 9 supports vascular health and monounsaturated fats in metabolic syndrome. Available in a palatable oil or granular. CocoOmega is a non-GMO and soy free formula that supplies fatty acids in the ideal ratio that mimics the ratio of 4 to 1 Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids found in fresh forages. Promotes a glossy, healthy coat, and supports skin, hooves and joint function by retaining moisture in the cells and tissues to maintain healthy hydration. Highly concentrated levels of Omega-3 fatty acids enriched with antioxidants also provides EPA and DHA to support brain and nervous system function. Contains Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds and Fish Oil. Very palatable, 100% cold pressed, unrefined oil.