A sudden loss of appetite in a horse is a concern as horses generally will trickle graze. Even so, horses are sensitive feeders that use their sense of smell and lips to source out and investigate food. They are sensitive to the feel, smell and taste of available forages and concentrated feed, and hence sensitive to change. Here Pauline Smith BHSAI Int. (SM) D&H Nutritionist explains why this happens and what you can do.
Horses are creatures of habit and if they do suddenly lose interest in their normal rations and there are no known changes, we should ask the question – Why are they not eating?
It could be for a number of reasons:
• Discomfort or pain can have an impact on appetite and a dislike for the normal bucket feed, however reduced forage intake is usually associated with minor and increasing dental discomfort and may show up as a reduction of the normal consumption of forage.
• Poor health, localised pain, dental issues, gastric ulcers, even a change in hay or haylage, can trigger digestive upsets.
• Sensitive and younger horses can be easily distracted from eating up. Work out what is distracting them and rectify it. Horses that will not eat up in the mornings often are too keen to get out to the field, others benefit if they can see other horses, rather than just hear them. Conversely some horses prefer their privacy and take a dislike to a new equine neighbour and hence become distracted from their feed.
Management Changes that affect feed intake include:
An increase in the total daily intake to more than is required. Horses select the more digestible components of a diet, and this will maximize nutrient energy intake. Horses fed a high level of highly nutritious feed may then restrict their intake of the less nutritious feeds. Hence why they may become picky and only eat the best hay or the tastiest portions of the feeds.
A change of feed. Initially mix new feeds with the previous feed so that your horse can adjust to the taste. If refusing to eat up, offer less per meal, and divide the daily requirement into more meals per day; or even more handfuls throughout the day for a sick horse.
A sudden increase in meal size. The horse’s stomach has the volume of a rugby ball and we should aim to feed less than 2.5kg in total per meal. Feeds that require water added should be soaked prior to adding to the other feeds and this volume taken in to account.
How to feed Medicines in the feed
• Always follow Veterinary advice on how to administer or feed medicines. Follow instructions on the pack and refer to your vet for guidance to ensure the dose is correct for the horse’s bodyweight.
• Hide medications in a sliced apple or carrot.
• Dilute the daily dose’s taste by mixing into a good amount of course mix, chaff or Kwikbeet and feeding over more meals.
Methods to tempt fussy and picky eaters
• Consider adding mint, Hedgerow Herbs, horehound (known as Marrubium Vulgare and is a flowering plant in the mint family), apple juice, sliced or grated carrots or a dribble of molasses
• Add a scoop of tasty Pasture Mix, Winter Health Mash, Kwikbeet or other soaked unmolassed sugar beet pulp.
• Provide a variety of forages to encourage browsing behaviour. Horses increase their time spent eating if a variety of forages are offered in different locations around the stable, as this helps recreate the natural browsing instinct.
• Whenever your horse has a limited appetite, feed Ultimate Balancer to ensure they receive all the essential proteins and nutrients. B-vitamins are known to stimulate appetite
• Feed flavours liked by horses include fenugreek, banana, cherry, rosemary, cumin, carrot, peppermint, and oregano.
For more information about any of our palatable feeds, or if you would like a palatability sample please call our friendly team on 0845 345 2627 or use the Live Chat option to talk live to a nutritionist www.dodsonandhorrell.com