Ask the Vet – How to put weight on a senior horse


SARAH: “I have an elderly
horse who I love so much, and I was wondering how I
can make life for him a bit more comfortable as he ages. He is a 28–” with
a question mark– “year-old Appendix
Quarter Horse. He is retired. He gets turned out
into an indoor arena every night with other horses. And he’s in his stall from
maybe 9:00 until 3:00. We often have young
lesson kids work with him. No riding of course, but he
gets hand-walked pretty much everyday– just a few laps
around the property. And we groom and bathe
him often with the kids. He is quite skinny
and is a sad sight. We feed him twice as much
hay as the other horses. And he gets grain once a day and
an assortment of supplements, still can’t seem
to put weight on. Any tips on fattening him up and
making his life a little better would help so much.” DR LYDIA GRAY: Life
already sounds pretty good, but we’ll try it. SARAH: It’s very
wonderful, just very sweet. DR LYDIA GRAY: “Assortment
of supplements” was an interesting
way of phrasing it. SARAH: It’s how I would
describe my SmartPak. It’s an assortment. DR LYDIA GRAY: So when I look
at a situation like this, the first thing I want to
make sure they’re doing is working with their vet. So get the complete
physical exam. Make sure there’s no
underlying health condition. A horse this age– what? 20s? SARAH: 28 she thinks. DR LYDIA GRAY: Could
have Cushing’s, could have a variety of things
that they’re unhealthy enough to make them a
little bit run down or make them into
that hard keeper. And so if you bring their
health status up a notch, maybe they’ll put
on weight better or they’ll extract the
nutrition out of their food that they should be. SARAH: Even things you might
not expect like teeth problems. DR LYDIA GRAY: Could be
teeth, could be parasites. Could be simple things,
could be hard things. But get the vet out. SARAH: Yes. DR LYDIA GRAY: When the vet
is out have them show you, if you don’t already know how,
to do a body condition score and to assess the
weight– in some way measure the weight of your
horse– can be a tape. And then record
those in a journal. So that now you have an
objective measurement of your horse’s health. SARAH: Is this getting better? Is this getting worse,
rather than just, “ooh, I wish he’d gain weight.” DR LYDIA GRAY: Right. Because we’re going to
give you some things to do. And if you’re not
following them– I did A, and is he
better or worse, then you don’t know if you
should continue that or try something else. And the thing I
always tell people is try one thing at a time. Because if you– SARAH: It’s hard to resist. DR LYDIA GRAY: I know
it is because you want them to get better right now. But if you throw the
kitchen sink at them and then the horse gets
better, you’re like, uh-oh. What was it? Now I have to do everything. Now you’re taking out
one thing at a time. So they said the horse gets hay
in front of him all the time. SARAH: It does. Yeah. Twice as much as– well,
they said twice as much as the other horses. DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh. SARAH: So that is a good point. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK. So when I have a thin
horse, I like to keep food in front of them all the time. I don’t know if they
have a situation where they can do that. But that would be ideal. And I would keep grass
hay in front of this horse all the time if he
has the teeth for it. And then I would begin to
add some alfalfa hay in– if he can tolerate it– because
it has more protein and it has more calories. SARAH: While we’re on the
subject of the hay in front of them all the time, I just
want to throw in some things here. Because my horse, Cody, is 29. And he is not underweight,
but he’s close. He’s probably– he’s a four. He’s not a four and
a half where I’d like him to be on the
body condition scale. And so with him,
he’s a hay waster. DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh. SARAH: So if we throw five
flakes into his stall, he’ll eat one, and then
just pee on the rest. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yep. SARAH: And so what we do
instead is we give him one flake at a time in
a Small Hole Hay Net so that he’s eating
it, has access to it, and doesn’t have the
ability to just trash it all over the floor of the stall. And you get more out
of what you give him. DR LYDIA GRAY: The
interesting thing with putting the
hay in the hay net is you think it
would slow them down. It does, but that
phenomenon makes the thin horses gain weight
and thick horses lose weight. SARAH: Interesting DR LYDIA GRAY: It brings
everybody back to normal. SARAH: I like that. DR LYDIA GRAY: So that was
a really good suggestion. If his teeth aren’t that
great there’s always the option of chopped hay,
hay cubes, which probably you want to soak, hay pellets. So still getting that
long-stem forage in there. He might be a horse
that needs to transition to a complete feed, which is
the hay and grain in the bag. And read the label
on these, because you don’t feed small amounts
like three to five pounds of a regular fortified grain. You might need to feed
15, 18, 20 pounds of it, of course, spread
out over the day. Then you can add
in other, I guess I would call them
supplements, or other things to help hard keepers or
senior horses add weight. My favorite, of
course, is beet pulp. You knew I was
going to say that. I like this because it is
between the nutrition of hay and grain. And it’s a fermentable
fiber, which the horse’s hindgut excels at. And they get energy from
that and then calories. So a lot of horses
that are underweight gain weight with the
addition of beet pulp. There’s rice bran if
you want to add fat, so moving to a new section. There’s one way to add fat. You can just add
straight fat too. And now it comes in a solid, so
it’s not as frustrating as oil. Because oil gets thick in
the winter and hard to pour. And then it can go
bad in the summer. It gets hot and it goes rancid. And it doesn’t taste good. And it’s not great. SARAH: And depending what
type of oil you pick, it can also have downsides. DR LYDIA GRAY: Well, it
can be very high in omega– like corn oil is very high. The ratio of omega 3s to
omega 6s, it’s inverted. So that that’s– you’re
just adding inflammation to your horse and probably
doesn’t need that. SARAH: Not something a
senior needs for sure. DR LYDIA GRAY: Definitely not. So I like the powdered fat. I think that’s– older horses
become less efficient as they age. Digestive system is
one of the organs that becomes less efficient. And so some digestive
support like probiotics, prebiotics, yeast– very good– enzymes
can help them, as I said earlier, extract the
nutrition that you’re already giving them, but they’re
just not getting. And then I like that
he gets turnout. You probably don’t
have grass which is why they don’t put him on
it, but, boy, pasture just adds bloom to horses. And if there’s any
way you can get him outside for turnout,
that would be ideal. I can’t tell from hearing
this if he gets outside for some fresh air. SARAH: He gets hand walked
around the property they said. DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh, OK. That’s good. SARAH: So that’s a good
opportunity for some grazing. DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh, yeah. But everything– reduce
the stress in his life. Look at all aspects
of the environment. The vet’s great to
walk around with you. Look at the food
quality and quantity. Look at the grass. Look at the property. Look for stress. So is he having to
fight off other horses for his fair share. Sometimes that gets overlooked. Does he have a buddy
that he’s friends with? Because as a horse, being
isolated makes you nervous. So I think there’s some– SARAH: And people too. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah, everybody. I think there are some
things that need looked at that’s not in this question. And then there’s
some opportunities to add some nutrition to
this horse that can make him enjoy his golden years. SARAH: That’s right. All right. Well, I hope that some of those
solutions work out for you. And that you guys have many
more years ahead of you. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. SARAH: He sounds like
a wonderful horse.


4 Responses

  1. Kira Quilter

    November 20, 2018 4:11 pm

    I have a 34 year old horse, he is skinny and probably soon going to pass, we will still take your advice and hopefully it works! Hoping for the best! ❤️😬

  2. Chelsea Archer

    November 22, 2018 7:46 am

    My pony is prone to laminitis/founder, he cannot have any grass, he gets constant access to hay. He has had a nutritionist look at his diet as he is quite skinny, a 25 year old, they said to give him rice bran oil, is this okay to give a laminitis prone pony?

  3. Kellye Lomeli

    December 1, 2018 9:09 am

    Our vet said no beet pulp at such an advanced age because it's mostly sugar and will cause some glucose issues. My horse is 31. We give him 4 flakes per day of alfalfa hay and 12 quarts of LMF senior and 6 quarts of alfalfa pellets. He's also on probiotics and a senior weight accelerator from Mana pro.

  4. Honey Hollow Homestead

    April 7, 2019 1:17 pm

    This has been helpful. I am dealing with an older horse who has had stress (moved to a new environment, new owner, new herd mate). She lost weight over winter, however I believe the hay was a factor as we are in Kentucky and the hay quality has been extremely poor because of weather conditions during the haying season. I have put her on a senior feed with added alfalfa pellets. She has no teeth issues (no quidding evident). Was debating on the beet pulp. We are just coming in spring, so hopeful of grass growth. Only concern is the quality of grass as the property had been fallow for several years.


Leave a Reply