Narre Warren Vet Dr Robyn Charman’s Guide to Weight loss in the Horse


Weight loss is a problem we often encounter at South Eastern Equine Hospital and it can be caused by a long list of both medical and non-medical causes. Firstly, let’s take a look at the causes of weight loss in healthy horses.

Weight loss may be seen in healthy horses if there is: 

·         Bullying by other horses in a group environment

·         Insufficient feed or poor quality pasture

·         Poor quality or unpalatable feed

·         Poor quality hay is often a cause of weight loss over winter

·         Excessive work with insufficient feed 

So you can see that it is vital to get your horse’s caloric intake just right and always use good quality feed, adjusted to the amount of exercise the horse is undertaking. 

So what about health problems leading to weight loss in horses?

Sometimes weight loss can be seen in horses where there is dental disease. If the horse is unable to chew their feed properly due to abnormal, infected or painful teeth, a lot of the nutritional value of the feed is lost. It is vital to have regular dental checks for your horse to ensure that this is prevented. 

Parasite control is really important too. A high worm burden in some horses can lead to weight loss. Sometimes this is due to poor parasite control or even parasitic resistance over time. A simple faecal test can look at this possibility and ensure that the deworming program you have in place for your horse is working effectively.

Diseases that can lead to weight loss in horses include the following:

·         Heart, liver or kidney disease

·         Chronic low grade infection

·         Persistent low grade pain

·         Cancers

·         Absorption problems in the gut 

So how is the cause of the weight loss identified? 

When investigating weight loss I begin with a thorough history and clinical examination, including examining the teeth. 

Faecal egg counts to assess parasite burdens can be easily performed at South Eastern Equine Hospital. The number of worm eggs detected in a faecal sample correlate well with the number of adult worms actually present in the gut of the horse. 

A blood test can also be carried out to check the function of all body systems. Abnormalities picked up in a simple blood test then allow us to concentrate on specific areas and develop a diagnosis and treatment plan. 

Further diagnostics such as ultrasound, echocardiography, specific hormone tests or glucose tolerance tests may be performed to give us a final answer as to why your horse is losing weight.     

If you have noticed your horse’s condition deteriorate or unexplained weight loss, please book an appointment today.


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