By Heather Thomas
Dr. Amy Gill, an equine nutritionist in Kentucky, says that if a horse is a finicky eater and losing weight, the first thing to do would be to check his teeth, and make sure the horse has been dewormed. If it’s been awhile since the last deworming, she often recommends using the 5-day double dose of Panacur, for horses that aren’t doing as well as they should be.
In regions where EPM is a problem, Gill says this can also be a cause of horses not keeping proper body condition. There are other medical issues that could be at the root of a horse losing weight or not eating well. “After checking for medical problems, I tell people to give the finicky eater the forage that has the most calories and nutrients, which is alfalfa hay. Select a good quality alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mix,” she says.
Regarding concentrates for these horses, she recommends a no-grain high-fat, high-fiber concentrate product, something like Triple Crown Senior, or Tribute Kalm and Easy. “It’s healthier for the horse to utilize a concentrate with no grain in it. Even though grain is packed with calories, many of these horses are not functioning optimally in the hind gut. We want to keep the horse eating fiber, to stimulate hind gut function as much as possible,” says Gill.
Neither grain nor fat are natural feeds for horses, but they seem to be able to handle fat better than the sugars and starches in grain. “Fat is digested, absorbed and readily available as an energy source—and does not cause any disruption of the hindgut, like grain can do. Horses are very good at digesting fat whereas they are terrible at metabolizing sugar. Fat utilization is superior to that of starches,” Gill explains
“For the fussy eater, we want feeds with lots of calories, but without starch. This usually means a high-fat, high-fiber diet. I recommend supplementing with Palm fat for horses that need extra calories. Palm fat supplies a medium-chain fatty acid that can be used by the body directly as an energy source. It goes through a different route of absorption than other fats and is much more readily available. Horses’ bodies learn to use it preferentially, helping to prevent the metabolism of muscle cells for energy—which often happens in horses with low body condition,” she explains.
“I make a product called EquiPalm that works well. It’s different from regular fat because it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream without having to go through the lymphatic system like other fats and is thus more readily available as energy. It is generally used by the body as an energy source, rather than being stored as fat,” she says.
“Some of the traditional fats used in horse feeds include soy oil and canola oil, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids—which tend to increase inflammation in the body. These oils are added to feeds because they are very stable and provide longer shelf life of the product. Horse owners should not add more omega-6 to the diet, but instead use a product that contains omega-3 fatty acids and the Palm fat,” she says.
“Often the horses that don’t eat well have inflammatory bowel or gassy bowel or they are uncomfortable because they have ulcers. The omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce a lot of the inflammation in the body. Even though we are providing a ration already containing fat, and adding the Palm fat, we still want to use omega-3 fatty acid at a therapeutic dose because we want to gain the physiological benefit from that,” says Gill.
“So the foundation of the diet for a fussy eater would be alfalfa, augmented by a high fat/fiber no-grain concentrate, with Palm fat added, and omega 3 fatty acids. And if the horse is still not eating enough and losing weight (after being checked by a veterinarian), turn it out on green grass. Sometimes there is no alternative but to halt the training/work and lower the horse’s stress level.”