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What is Anorexia?

Anorexia occurs when a horse has no appetite or lacks the desire for food. Typically, anorexia is a secondary condition that results from a primary illness. Should your horse experience anorexia, he will show weight loss, whether dramatic or subtle. Examples of conditions that can lead to anorexia in horses include nutrient deficiency, dental problems that make chewing painful, fever, sepsis, parasitism, trauma, injury, organ failure and neoplasia. Other reasons that your horse may be uninterested in eating include certain medications, sudden feed changes, engagement in hard work, separation anxiety and challenging living conditions. 

Should your horse be experiencing anorexia, it will be important to determine the cause of the condition, so that it can be resolved and your horse will again meet his nutritional needs. After all valid reasons for your horse’s disinterest in eating have been ruled out or resolved he should be willing to eat the feed you offer him.

Usually the result of an underlying condition, anorexia occurs when your horse has no appetite and is unwilling or uninterested in eating.

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Symptoms of Anorexia in Horses

If your horse be experiencing anorexia, you will notice that he is not particularly (or at all) interested in eating. Especially if he is uninterested in food for a significant length of time, it is likely that you will notice that he is losing weight. Your horse may appear emaciated; you may see his ribs, a ridge along his back, and bones through his skin. You may not be able to feel any fatty tissue. He also may show lethargic behavior, depression and present with a dull affect. Without taking in adequate nutrients, he will likely be intolerant to exercise.

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Ribs and bones apparent
  • Lack of fatty tissue 


Should your horse be experiencing acute anorexia, where he is not eating at all, you will notice a significant amount of weight loss. 

Partial anorexia may also occur where your horse will eat some amounts, sometimes. When your horse is experiencing this condition, you will likely see a subtle weight loss that will occur over a period of time.

Causes of Anorexia in Horses

In many cases anorexia is a secondary issue resulting from a primary condition. It can be a symptom of any number of different medical problems. For example, your horse may be struggling with dental problems that make chewing painful for him, or he may be suffering from neoplasia or organ failure which will lead to his having a loss of appetite.

Outside of medical conditions, there are other reasons for anorexia in horses. Separation anxiety may lead to your horse being disinterested in eating. A sudden change in food or engagement in heavy work may also cause your horse to be unwilling to eat.

Diagnosis of Anorexia in Horses

Diagnosing anorexia in your horse is pretty straightforward. It will be apparent that he is not eating. More complicated will be determining the reason that he is not eating. It will be important to work with your veterinarian to see if there is a medical condition that is causing your horse’s disinterest in eating. Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination of your horse and depending upon what he sees, he may request that your horse undergo some diagnostic testing in order to diagnose a condition that may be leading to the anorexia.

Should your veterinarian rule out a medical reason for your horse’s anorexia, you will want to consider environmental factors that may be leading to his being uninterested in food. It may be helpful to talk with your veterinarian about any non-medical reasons that may be contributing to your horse not eating.

Treatment of Anorexia in Horses

Treatment for anorexia in your horse will be dependent upon the reason for it. Should your veterinarian determine that your horse is struggling with some dental issues, for example, it will be important for him to receive treatment that is appropriate for the particular problem. Once his dental issues are treated, he will no longer feel pain when eating and his anorexia will be resolved. 

If your veterinarian rules out possible medical conditions and it is determined that something nonmedical is the reason for your horse not eating, there will be steps that you can take to resolve the issue. For example, in the case of your horse experiencing anorexia as a result of heavy work, you will want to look at increasing the number of, rather than the size of the meals that you provide to your horse. When looking to increase work levels, it is a good idea to do so slowly and gradually.

If your horse has been experiencing anorexia for an extended period of time, he may require treatment for nutritional deficiencies that resulted from his not eating. This may involve changes to his diet to increase the nutrition he is ingesting.

Recovery of Anorexia in Horses

It is a good idea to have your horse evaluated on a regular basis so that any concerns that are present will be noticed by your veterinarian and can be addressed immediately. There are also preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of your horse developing certain problems, for example a good parasite program will be helpful for the health of your horse.

Depending upon the problem that led to your horse experiencing anorexia, follow up appointments with your veterinarian may be necessary to ensure that the condition is resolved.