Something we've been having several conversations about recently - especially with winter getting closer - is body condition. We know there are a number of you out there with horses that simply refuse to put on weight. You may not think its something worth calling us out for because your horse has always been a difficult keeper. We will typically come in when a horse has previously not had weight issues and starts to drop off. Below is a brief run down of the common things we'll look for if we're dealing with weight loss/poor keeper issues.
First off let me say it's okay to see a little bit of rib. In fact we prefer it rather than the alternative. We typically score horses on the 1-9 scale and we like to see them in the 4-6 range. https://thehorse.com/164978/body-condition-scoring-horses-step-by-step/
If your horse is 3 or below then we should probably check things out. Similarly if they are 7+ but that is for another post.
The first thing we typically want to know is how are they eating? Is the appetite normal? If the appetite is decreased we may be dealing with a horse that doesn't feel well and the investigation will follow a different path. If the appetite is normal, are they eating appropriately? Horses can have dental issues that won't stop them from consuming food but they may not be grinding it well enough for the rest of the digestive tract to do it's job. This is something that is relatively easy to assess and rectify.
Does the horse have a history of diarrhea? If the weight loss is due to diarrhea that obviously becomes the focus of our investigation. If this is the case for you be prepared for a very frustrating time. We rarely find a cause for diarrhea although we have some tools available to try to combat it.
If you have a horse in poor body condition, no loss of appetite, no dental issues, and no diarrhea then we can still have a gastrointestinal issue but we start to look for metabolic issues. We will try to rule out the obvious things first, are there intestinal parasites or sand in that are affecting digestion? Is the liver functioning normally? If that is all clear, is there a reason the metabolism isn't balanced? Checking for diseases such as PPID (Cushings) is often undertaken. If all this is normal then we are in a situation where we assume either the horse is not digesting effectively, not absorbing nutrients effectively, or there is something more sinister such as cancer going on.
If our investigations draw a blank there are still some options open to you. We can send your horse to the hospital for a more comprehensive evaluation including things like ultrasound and biopsies. There are a number of gastrointestinal supplements out there which may be helpful, this is a bit of a mine field in terms of finding the right one from a reputable source and very few products have any evidence to support there use so shop with caution. We can also conduct a full nutritional evaluation and make appropriate changes. The functionality of veteran horses digestive tracts can often decrease over the years and they may simply need their diet to be a little easier to handle.
The take home message, just because they've always been that way doesn't mean there isn't a reason for it and there is probably something we can do about it.