Dear SmartPak: Weight gain advice?

Dr. Lydia Gray of SmartPak advises a horse owner who has concerns about her horse’s recent weight loss following a cross-country move.

From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Weight Gain

By Dr. Lydia Gray

I have a warmblood walker cross gelding, 14 years old with good teeth that I cannot get weight on. He moved from VA to CO in October. He then proceeded to go from a body score of 7 to a body score of 4 in 3 months. I have tried the high fat supplements like amplify but he will not eat those. He supposedly gets 25 lbs of timothy hay per day from the barn where he stays, plus 3 lbs of complete feed. I have a draft mare of the same size on the same diet and she is very similar BS wise to when she moved out here. I really need him to bulk up fat and muscle to get ready for this summer. Any suggestions? – Hannah

Dear Hannah,

I have to admit after seeing “warmblood/walker cross gelding” in the first sentence, I was surprised to learn that your issue is getting this particular horse to gain weight. Both of these breeds can be “easy keepers” so my first recommendation is to have your veterinarian out to examine each of your horses for medical issues that may be causing a problem. You specifically mention that his teeth are good although it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Also, how’s your parasite control program?

While your veterinarian is at the farm, walk him or her through your current feeding regimen. Assess the quality of the hay and grain, weigh the horses’ daily servings, read bag labels, body condition score and estimate weight, examine when and where your horses are each fed, etc. Perhaps together you can identify a problem that could cause them not to be getting the quality or quantity of food you think they’re getting.

If the horses and your feeding program get a clean bill of health, then it’s time to look at ways to add calories to their diet. Let’s start with the hay. It sounds like you’re providing enough forage, since the rule of thumb is 1-2% of body weight. Next, while complete feeds generally contain high quality ingredients that are easily digestible, they are all-in-one products—hay and grain in a bag—and as such are very very diluted when it comes to calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. The full recommended serving for these types of products is in the 15 to 18 pound range, so the 3 pounds you’re providing is actually supplying very little of any of these nutrients. You may want to consider bumping them up to a true fortified grain, not a complete feed.

If adding grain isn’t something you’re keen on doing, other suggestions to add weight to horses include alfalfa (hay, cubes, pellets); beet pulp, and stabilized rice bran. Keep in mind if you do add one of these suggestions to the partial serving of complete feed, you should also consider adding a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to fill in the gaps.

You say you’ve tried one fat supplement but there are lots of others out there that your horse might take a liking to so I encourage you to experiment. Also think about a weight gain supplement that not only adds fat but also protein (amino acids) since you said you want to “bulk him up.”

Finally, your horses sound like excellent candidates for digestive support to help them extract the most out of their current nutrition possible. Ingredients in this category include active live yeast like Saccharomyces cerevisiae, probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and others. Good luck!

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