Horse people - advice on putting weight on a senior horse

Discussion in 'Other Pets & Livestock' started by KYChixMama, May 18, 2011.

  1. KYChixMama

    KYChixMama Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 17, 2011
    We're adopting Sarge - I posted about him here . He's in his late 20's - what would you recommend to get weight back on him quickly and safely, and after that what would you recommend for maintenance?

    He won't be arriving at our farm for another week or two, so I gave his current owners a big bag of alfalfa cubes, Dumor weight booster, and senior horse feed to get him started toward weight gain. Figured that's what I'm going to do once he gets here, so why wait? Are there any other products you'd recommend?

    Last edited: May 18, 2011
  2. Celtic Hill

    Celtic Hill Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 7, 2010
    Scotland CT
    The fact that you will have him on pasture will help so much! Make sure his teeth are good and he passes a vet check. I always like to add oil to any diet because it helps with the coat at the least. Also make sure he is dewormed, it might not hurt to do a power pac. When you feed hay you want to feed good quality that has broad leaves and is soft and fluffy so he can easily digest the nutrients. It can be hard to say what to do with older horses because each one is different. I have had good luck with empower, It might not hurt to put him on a senior feed that is extruded. Im guessing he will be pastured with other horses, but i would also suggest letting him have hay 24/7.
  3. arabianequine

    arabianequine Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 4, 2010
    Did you see my thread here? Star is on Purina Strategy GX G is for grass hay she is eating. They have an alfalfa Strategy too. Star is not a senior but this has worked for her. She gets 6 pounds per day and free choice grass/alfalfa mix hay.

    Good luck!
  4. KYChixMama

    KYChixMama Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 17, 2011
    Quote:He will have all the grazing he wants! [​IMG] I have to keep them in specific pastures because of Bobby's blindness (he can't be in pastures over 5 acres or gets disoriented) so I have several smaller pastures I rotate them between. I currently have to mow the pastures because the horses can't keep up. Nice problem to have, I admit! Sarge will probably think he's in horse heaven when he gets here.[​IMG]
    Last edited: May 18, 2011
  5. Skyesrocket

    Skyesrocket Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 20, 2008
    He looks thin and there must be a reason behind it. I agree with having his teeth checked. He might not have much left. If his teeth are bad he will have a hard time chewing the alfalfa cubes. Good pasture comes in handy when their teeth are worn down. They have an easier time with grass than hay.
    With these older guys I have had good luck with beet pulp soaked overnight. And a good worming. Get a wormer that will kill tapes.
    Good Luck with the old guy. It's sounds like he will be in good hands with you. Get those teeth looked at.
  6. KYChixMama

    KYChixMama Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 17, 2011
    Quote:There is - his current owners had to move across state due to a change in their contract job. The had arranged to lease a house with ample pasture, but once there the arrangement fell through and they now have 1/5 of the original amount. Sarge, as the oldest horse, has suffered the worst. His teeth were recently floated, however I've arranged with our farrier and vet to come and check him over once he arrives on our farm.

    I'll check into the beet pulp!
  7. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    Your horse is both lacking in fat AND muscle. He may benefit from very gentle, slow exercise. Exercise for out-of-shape horses should start out with very brief, slow sessions. It has to be adjusted to whatever health problems or lameness/foot problems the horse may have, and exercise for older horses requires a lot of care and thought. It's not usually exciting or fun and shows and long trail rides can't usually be the goal - it's often boring repetitive stuff like hand walking, walking under saddle (once the horse's back isn't so thin!), and it may only be for five or ten minutes. Many people find it way too boring and repetitive, but daily very brief sessions are best.

    Make all feed changes gradually over several weeks. I would not assume that the previous owners fed this horse the feeds you gave them. It's good to start supplements and bagged feeds gradually, and not assume their hay or pasture is as lush and rich as yours.

    The main thing with feeding the thin horse is using sound basic equine nutrition principles. Horses need plenty of good quality fiber in their diet (largely provided by quality hay and pasture). Hay and or pasture should make up most of their diet by weight. The average horse should usually eat upwards of 20 lbs of hay a day, or equivalent pasture(not to suggest that a horse can immediately start grazing six or eight hours a day - it may be more like 5 minutes a day and gradually, slowly working up to longer over a period of weeks).

    Your horse is not starvation-level thin, but since many here rescue horses, I'll mention that vets advise extreme caution at putting starvation level horses on rich feed and trying for rapid weight gain. They must be put on a very careful gradual program or severe metabolic damage can result.

    Recently, it's been found that many horses tolerate fatty foods well. Many owners have added some sort of oil or fatty product to their horse's diet. Many concentrates (bagged feed, grains, etc) are now sold with more fat included.

    There are many myths about protein in the equine diet. Many owners feed rather a lot of protein. Large amounts of supplements or high protein bagged feeds may be fed by some owners. High protein diets aren't always good for older horses. Such diets can strain already aging kidneys aside from not doing what is claimed. It's a good idea to keep elder protein levels about 10-12%. Some will feed rescued animals more protein for a little while, feeling it helps rebuild muscle and helps in healing....and then cut back to recommended levels.

    There are also myths about vitamins and minerals. Many horse feed products supply vitamins horses synthesize themselves. Many advertisements make outlandish and unproven claims for the vitamins, minerals and other products they feed, because horse feeds and supplements are completely unregulated. The growth in feeding of supplements and 'nutritionals' in the last 15 years or so has been jaw dropping. But many of the oral joint products marketed, can't even be absorbed by horses, and may vitamins and minerals and other items, simply don't do what is advertised. Stick to sound basic principles of nutrition. Iron, in particular, may be fed in such excess quantities("It builds them up!") that horses may actually get sick!

    My vet commented the other day - 'I will be seeing many, many founders in the next few weeks'. Founder/laminitis are conditions that can be caused by sudden feed changes or excess feed(not the only possibility, but common enough).

    My vet made that comment because of recent heavy rains in our region (and many others!) causing a 'flush' of pasture growth. Quickly growing grass is high in sugar and can cause laminitis in horses as well as other types of animals. Be VERY careful about putting your old horse on your pasture.

    Many sellers will say their horse is 'on pasture' but it may be so grazed down that when the horses move to a new pasture, they become extremely ill. Be careful!

    Beet pulp is one of the safer feeds due to its type of carbohydrates etc(again, other very high starch/sugar grains can cause laminitis in vulnerable horses).

    When beet pulp is soaked it is safer (soaked for a long time, starting with boiling water) choking is less likely - shreds are less likely to cause choking than pellets. As discussed often here, a few horses will choke on it even if it is soaked.

    Some horses try to eat rather quickly, so some horses are safer to feed beet pulp than others. Any finely cut up feed can be choked on. So it's important to get to know your horse - how he eats and what he does well on.

    With a senior horse, the focus should always first be on - WHY is the horse thin.

    Not enough feed? This isn't unusual. Older horses often receive less medical care and less feed.

    Inappropriate feed? Old horses may need something that is a little easier to digest. For example, rolled oats may be better for an older horse than whole oats in the husk.

    Poorly selected feed? Some feeds may be 'appropriate' and the right quantity, but that horse may simply not like it and not eat it. Horses have preferences too.

    Pain? Horses in pain from lameness or injuries to the back, neck, hind quarters, often eat less. A common cause of pain is chronic laminitis/founder.

    Disease? Some horses develop diseases that cause their gut to not work efficiently. There are many possible diseases that could do that.

    Poor quality hay? Many horses get over 90% of their calories from their hay. If it's poor quality they will get thin.

    Teeth? Teeth in poor condition can cause a horse to not get all the nutrition in his feed. Much of his feed may even be 'quidded' - dropped from his mouth in little half-chewed wads.

    Worms? Older horses are often more vulnerable to worms.

    Management? Older horses fed with other younger horses are often pushed away from their feed.

    'Old age'? There is nothing about old age per se that includes being thin....except that some older horses are suffering from disease, pain or lameness that may interfere with weight maintenance.

    You will hear a zillian 'absolutes' in horse feeding - it's a subject that brings up very, very strong opinions and every horse person always thinks he's right and everyone else is wrong. Almost every horse owner has a 'formula' they swear by, to fatten up a thin horse - a favorite product or feed supplement. You'll be told you have to feed that!

    What is important is that the horse receive a balanced diet based on sound time-tested, basic, sound nutrition principles. A very rapid weight gain should never be a goal - weight gain that comes too quickly can cause, again, laminitis as well as other problems. A good many owners have a 'fat eye', in that they want horses to be overly fat, so aiming for those real round contours is not always the best. Confirming with a vet the horse's current 'condition score' and setting up a feeding plan with the vet, can help.

    If you are stabling thin horses, you may want to prepare evidence that the horse is being seen by a vet and is on a sound nutrition program, as well as information about when you purchased the horse and pictures of his condition at that time. Neighbors and passers-by seem to be increasingly telephoning animal control agencies when they see thin horses. They don't always understand that thin horses didn't always get that way due to the current owner.
    Last edited: May 19, 2011
  8. dutchhollow

    dutchhollow Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 13, 2008
    SW IA
    Probably covered above, but take it easy with all the suppliments, try one at a time, in a small amount. Also when you move him to your place, limit his grazing at first 30 mins three times a day, if you are home and can. Putting a horse that hasn't had free access to rich growing green grass, can cause digestive and hoof problems.
  9. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    I disagree with 30 min 3 times a day to start. Having no idea what sort of pasture he was usually on at his previous home(no I don't go by what I'm told or pics I'm sent), I'd recommend limiting him to 5 minutes total per day(provide hay instead, avoiding hays with too much alfalfa), and gradually increasing that amount/time on pasture over a monh or two. Also, if your vet determines this horse has gotten laminitis repeatedly in the past, has 'rotation' (damage to bones in feet, seen on xray), or has Insulin Resistance, the maximum amount of pasture he can EVER have is going to be rather low!!!
  10. jettgirl24

    jettgirl24 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 21, 2010
    Duvall, WA
    I have my 28 y.o. retired guy on a Senior feed, a little dry or sweet cob, and beet pulp. I also use a product called Cool Calories which has really helped him bulk up and then maintain the weight. A side benefit, it has also made his coat gorgeous. There are other similar calorie supplements available as well. The Cool Calories is a powder that works particularly well with the beet pulp and the moisture makes it dissolve rather than sifting to the bottom of the feed bucket. This combination has worked extremely well for my guy. Obviously whatever you choose outside of Timothy/Grass hay will need to be fed in small amounts and slowly built up.

    I don't currently feed it but I have used oil in the past, always corn oil, but just learned the other day that corn oil isn't actually a great choice for horses as it increases the amount of inflammation in the body due to the omega 6 ratio. MUCH better are flax meal, flax oil, or fish oil. According to my good friend who is extremely knowledgeable regarding nutrition, she prefers flax meal as it gets them the "good" oil, and it's easier to feed than oil (oils also go rancid easily).

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