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What is Seasonal Influences (Dietary Needs)?

The time of year may influence your horse’s nutritional needs; these seasonal influences differ based on your location. Mild changes of season may mean that there is no need to adjust your horse’s diet. In places where there are significant differences in weather when seasons change, the nutritional needs of your horse may change as well. It is hard for horses to handle both very hot and very cold weather and having their nutritional needs met will be helpful in the ability to handle these conditions.

Changes also come in the springtime when horses may overindulge in all of the newly grown grass, increasing their risk for colic and laminitis. Heat and humidity that is present in the summer will require you to make efforts to be sure that your horse is able to keep himself cool. As fall comes you can prepare your horse for the winter through changes in his diet.

Different seasons and the weather that accompanies them will lead to changes in the nutritional needs of horses.

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Symptoms of Seasonal Influences (Dietary Needs) in Horses

If you notice that your horse appears to have lost weight during the winter time, it may mean that he is burning more calories than he is taking in and requires a change in his diet to ensure he maintains his weight.

In the springtime, should you observe symptoms of colic or laminitis, this can be related to his having overindulged in fresh grass, as opposed to having gradually increased his grass intake.

  • Weight loss
  • Colic
  • Laminitis
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance

Causes of Seasonal Influences (Dietary Needs) in Horses

To maintain a healthy weight, your horse will need to keep a balance between the number of calories he takes in with the calories he uses. In colder temperatures, your horse will use more calories in an effort to maintain his body temperature. How much extra calories he will require is dependent on the extent of the temperature change. When the climate is extremely cold, there are other things you can do to help your horse have an easier time maintaining his body heat which could decrease the number of calories he needs to take in. Shelter from harsh weather, for example, can be key in helping your horse regular his temperature in the cold.

Another seasonal change that can impact your horse’s diet is the new growth of grasses in his pasture that takes place during the springtime. This is something to watch and plan for as ingesting too much grass without gradually increasing the amount consumed can cause problems like colic in your horse. 

The heat and humidity of summer may also require dietary changes. It is important to focus on providing things that will help your horse keep cool. The fall is the time to prepare your horse as best as you can for the cold weather that is approaching in the winter.

Diagnosis of Seasonal Influences (Dietary Needs) in Horses

Should it appear that your horse is losing weight in the winter or experiencing troubling symptoms during any season, it may be helpful to visit your veterinarian for an examination to ensure that there is not an underlying condition that is causing the symptoms he is experiencing. Your veterinarian can conduct an examination and depending on its results, discuss with you any dietary changes that may help your horse maintain good health throughout all four seasons. She may choose to take a fecal and urine sample to analyze in order to rule out parasites or infection. Blood tests may be ordered to rule out conditions that may be suspected such as anemia or neoplasia.

Treatment of Seasonal Influences (Dietary Needs) in Horses

When looking to increase the number of calories you horse takes in during colder months, you will want to use forage. The microbes in the digestive system of your horse work harder and longer in order to digest forage, which will create more heat for a greater length of time. This makes extra hay or other forage a better choice to deliver extra calories than extra concentrated grains or feed during the times when your horse is having to work harder to keep his body temperature up.

In regards to ensuring that your horse does not ingest too much grass in the springtime, it is recommended that you limit his time or his grazing space. His time and/or space can increase as he gradually adjusts to consuming more grass.

In summer heat and humidity, be sure that your horse can access fresh, cool, clean water. Loose or block salt is also good to have available for your horse. If your horse is involved in heavy work that leads to significant sweating, electrolytes can be helpful, though be sure that the one you choose includes sodium, chloride and potassium as the first ingredients. 

During the fall, you can make changes to your horse’s diet in order to help him be best prepared for the cold weather that is coming. The fiber in his diet can be increased and you can offer more hay and other types of roughage at different times through the day. Should he be on pasture, keep in mind that the nutritional value of what he is grazing on decreases as the temperature decreases and the days become shorter. This means that he may need supplementation to his diet.

Recovery of Seasonal Influences (Dietary Needs) in Horses

It is a good idea to consult with your veterinarian regarding any dietary changes you make for your horse. In order for your horse to remain healthy during climate changes, your veterinarian’s advice on what to add or remove, or how to limit his grass consumption will be very important. Once the dietary change is made, keep an eye on your horse to see if the new diet leads to changes in any symptoms he has been experiencing.