What is Obesity?
The definition noted above could apply to humans as well as horses, and the implications for equine and humanoid species are similar, too. While the implications of health concerns exist for both species, the diseases and health conditions which can be adversely affected are not the same. Those equine health conditions, just as those of humanoids, nonetheless should be not ignored. Obesity in horses is a condition which is largely preventable and steps should be taken to do so.
Obesity in horses occurs when there is an excess body fat which has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on the health of your equine companion.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Obesity in Horses
To follow are some of the symptoms that can be found in horses who are considered obese, but keep in mind that many horse owners have preconceived ideas about what an obese versus healthy horse looks like:
- The appearance of your horse: flat back, shoulders and neck fade smoothly into the body and you can’t count the ribs is a healthy horse
- A body condition score (BCS) of greater than 7 on a scale of 1 to 9 with 1 being very thin and 9 being overweight
- Neck crest fat accumulation
- Increasing episodes or worsening of laminitis
- Infertility or decreases in fertility
- Inability or difficulty with exercising and work
- Increases in gastrointestinal problems
Obesity types in horses refers to the degree of severity of obesity, designated by the rating given on the body condition score(BCS) scale:
- A BCS score of 1 to 4 is very good with no apparent fat cover
- A BCS score of 5 to 7 is average for the pleasure horse
- A BCS score of 9 is obese
This scale considers the neck, withers, shoulders, ribs, loin and tailhead for fat coverage when designating a score. The lower the score then less fat is present.
Because obesity in horses can result in some significant health and performance issues (insulin resistance, laminitis, pituitary gland dysfunction, hyperlipidemia syndrome, equine metabolic syndrome, reproductive issues, liver problems as they age, and lipomas), it should be easier to understand the reasons why obesity in your horse should be avoided if possible. If your horse currently is obese, this partial list of potential health and performance issues may help you understand how important it is to get your horse down to a healthy weight.
Causes of Obesity in Horses
Some of the causes for obesity in horses are obvious while others are not so much. Here are some of the causes:
- Overfeeding, frequently involving the overfeeding or non-active horses
- Improved animal husbandry techniques treat parasites more effectively
- Untreated intestinal parasites contribute to obesity
- Pasture forage is higher in calorie content than some feeds and is a more cost-effective way to feed
- Not enough exercise is being provided to compensate for quantity of food consumed
- Insulin resistance and a proinflammatory state of mild to moderate severity develops due to excessive fat buildup causing the feed ingested to be inappropriately digested by the equine
- Age related inflammation increases development of obesity
Diagnosis of Obesity in Horses
Here are some of the tests and examinations that will likely be done by your vet to determine if and the degree to which your equine is suffering from obesity:
- Physical examination and blood testing if insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome is suspected and may include fasting glucose testing as well as testing to show the insulin response of the horse when exposed to glucose through interstitial tissue glucose testing; during the physical examination, your veterinarian will be looking for regional thickening as evidence of fat accumulation, neck thickening and the existence of laminitis
- Review of the feed being given, the frequency, the amount being fed and the overall feeding habits being utilized on behalf of the equine will be done by your veterinarian to assess the evaluate the dietary regimen of your horse
- Weighing of your horse and assessing how that weight is comparable to healthy standards of weight and body fat composition
Treatment of Obesity in Horses
Once the above examinations, assessments and testing results are obtained, your veterinarian will be able to advise you as to where your equine fits within the BCS scale. This BCS score will enable everyone to be on the same page with regard to the need to take the necessary steps to reduce the obesity of the horse and thus reduce the potential other health risks involved with allowing this condition to continue. You should expect that the treatment plan would include recommendations geared toward reducing the weight and the accumulated fat on your equine.
Thus the treatment plan developed by your veterinary caregiver may require changes in the exercise routine and perhaps the frequency in which your horse is involved in that routine. It will likely require adjustments to and perhaps even changes in the feeding regimen for your horse. You may have to exercise strict control over the feed being ingested by your horse and this could require you to refrain from allowing as much free pasture grazing, for example, or adjust any grain feedings as well as possibly feeding a higher quality hay to assure a better balance of nutrients. If there is an underlying systemic cause for the obesity, it goes without saying that appropriate considerations will be incorporated into the treatment plan because the goal is to achieve and maintain better health for your horse.
Recovery of Obesity in Horses
Achieving better weight control and management of your equine’s dietary and exercise habits can help to make him healthier and happier. Obesity in your horse is something over which you and your veterinarian have a great deal of control and influence. Just as is the case of obesity in humans, fixing this problem and achieving the goal is not something which can occur overnight and will require follow up care on the part of your vet to assure the recommended treatment plan is benefiting the patient.
Depending on the degree of obesity of the horse and the environment in which the horse lives, this can take six months to achieve an appreciable improvement and it will require persistent monitoring of your equine’s dietary and exercise to maintain that improvement. Through due diligence, you can expect your horse to return to a previous level of health and performance and live a productive life.