One of the first steps to helping an obese horse drop a few pounds is recognizing that he's overweight in the first place. The next step? Implementing a diet program. But that hasn't always been as easy as it seems, as few tried and true weight loss programs for horses exist. British researchers recently tested a weight loss plan designed specifically for horses with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and had positive results.
“Weight loss in obese horses and ponies is important because obesity can contribute to the development of insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, and laminitis,” explained Cathy McGowan, BVSc, MACVSc, PhD, DEIM, Dip. ECEIM, FHEA, MRCVS, Head of Equine Internal Medicine in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, University of Liverpool, U.K. In turn, laminitis can cause severe pain and, in some cases, necessitate euthanasia.
“Obesity is often a result of over nutrition and inadequate physical activity, both of which are under the control of the owner,” McGowan said.
Veterinarians recommend restricting an EMS horse’s diet to achieve and maintain a healthy body condition score. But until now, a “diet” that helps improve insulin sensitivity in horses with EMS has not been described.
McGowan and colleagues recently tested the following “recipe” in 12 obese horses with EMS:
- Weigh grass hay that is equivalent to 1.5% of the horse’s body mass as a total daily amount.
- Divide the total daily hay into two haynets, offering one in the morning and one in the evening. Soak the hay before feeding to remove water soluble carbohydrates (i.e., feed one serving of hay and soak the other serving until the next feeding).
- Offer a balanced vitamin and trace mineral supplement designed for use in conjunction with soaked hay. If mixing the supplement with food, choose a low-calorie chaff or short chop.
- Turn the horse out for at least one hour per day for exercise, ensuring he wears a properly fitting grazing muzzle.
- Ensure free-choice access to water at all times.
“Horses included in this study lost an average of 6.8% of their body mass and showed significant improvements in body condition score, belly circumference, and insulin sensitivity after only six weeks of dietary restriction, feeding soaked hay only, and offering a specifically designed vitamin and mineral nutraceutical supplement,” McGowan concluded.
The study, “Dietary restriction in combination with a nutraceutical supplement for the management of equine metabolic syndrome in horses,” will be published in an upcoming edition of The Veterinary Journal.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.