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Underweight in horses: difficult to solve?

Is your horse too skinny? Underweight occurs regularly, for example in older horses. Letting an overweight horse lose weight is already difficult, but often solving underweight in horses is even more difficult. How is that actually? Perhaps we are doing something wrong in our management and are we quickly reaching for fatteners? How should it be done? A horse that is too thin has clearly visible ribs on which little or no fat can be felt. In horses that are too skinny, the spinal ends of the spine can also be clearly seen and the hip bones protrude. No fat can be seen or felt at the base of the tail. If your horse is that thin, it is not healthy and you need to take action.

A good ration for a lean horse

The basis of any horse ration is good hay or grass. You cannot compete against grass, so if you have a pasture available, make sure your skinny horse stands on it as much as possible. If the grass is too short or not nutritious, add good quality roughage. Usually unpackaged hay is best, as long as it is not dusty. Make sure that your underweight horse can eat unlimited (or almost unlimited) hay. Eating lots of good quality fiber is the most important thing. Make sure your horse also gets enough vitamins and minerals. For example by giving a balancer or a mineral supplement. Note: an extremely lean horse must gain weight with care, you cannot always feed it uninhibited. In such a case, consult your vet.

Feed extras?

Many people reach for, for example, beet pulp, slobber, carrots or extra concentrates to make their horse fatter. But the basic roughage is really the most important thing! So always make sure that it is in order first. If you then think that your horse could use something extra, healthy fats and proteins come into the picture. Fats provide a lot of energy and are easily absorbed by horses. For example, give some ground linseed or linseed oil, salmon oil or other good fats, which preferably contain a lot of omega 3 and / or omega 6 fatty acids. Start with a little and slowly increase the amount. You don't have to feed a lot of fats to see an effect. Proteins can also help in putting weight on your skinny horse. Many people therefore feed mare pellets to lean horses. But if you prefer not to give too many sugars, you can also feed proteins separately. Pea protein, rice protein and hemp protein are easily absorbed by horses. Start with a bit and see if it works. Lucerne also contains a lot of protein, although not everyone finds this a pleasant feed, because of the spiky blades that can irritate the stomach wall and the high calcium content. Proteins mainly help your horse build muscle mass. Also be careful with the size of the portions, a horse's stomach is small. The horse cannot process a large amount of fatteners / concentrates, which means that the digestion thereof is not optimal and the stomach is stretched too much. Therefore, give extras well distributed throughout the day so that the horse does not receive more than 500g (soaked) at a time

Horse stays thin?

Is your horse unable to gain weight despite unlimited hay, sufficient vitamins and minerals and possibly some extra oil and proteins? Then it is wise to investigate whether there is no more going on. A horse that remains too thin, despite good feed management, often has to deal with one or more underlying problems. Underweight often occurs with:
  • Dental and / or gum problems
  • Worm infections
  • High age of the horse
  • Cold weather conditions
  • Digestive Problems
  • Diseases such as PPID (Cushing) and liver or kidney disease
  • Horse hyperactivity


Have you had your horse for a while, is he not yet of age, but can you not (anymore) keep or gain weight properly? Then there may be something wrong. A manure test and targeted worming are always a good idea, followed by an inspection of the teeth. Hooks on the molars or sore gums can lead to chewing problems. If a horse does not chew properly, its food will be digested less well and it will be able to extract less energy. That can cause weight loss.

Young and skinny?

If your horse has just come out of the (foreign) trade and is skinny, make sure that the animal gets a worm treatment and a dental check-up. There is currently quite a lot of import of horses, for example from Spain. These horses are sometimes very thin, simply because they have not been fed and dewormed well enough, or have collapsed badly during transport due to stress. Such a horse should recover quickly with a worm treatment, dental check and especially the correct feed policy. In some cases, some extra protein for growing young horses can also be a good idea. A mare suckling a foal also needs extra protein.

Old and skinny?

When it is cold, older horses often have more trouble keeping warm. Heat is released during the digestion of roughage in the colon. If that digestion is less good, the horse has to use a larger part of its (rough) feed to stay warm and it becomes leaner. This is the case with many older horses. You can easily prevent weight loss by putting a thicker blanket on an older horse and / or giving it a blanket earlier in the fall.

Blood test, stomach and intestines

If all of the above doesn't help, it is time to rule out other causes of weight loss. With blood tests, your vet can check for hormonal diseases such as PPID and check liver and kidney levels. A horse that stays lean may also have digestive problems. For example stomach ulcers or ulcers in the intestines. It is also possible that the bacterial population in the intestines is not optimal in composition. In the latter case, products with a probiotic effect can sometimes help. But even with digestive problems, sufficient roughage is the most important thing!

Hyperactive or stressed?

Finally, there are horses that get so excited that they lose weight. If a horse is temporarily stressed, for example after a move, it will often be fine again. But the stress should not become chronic. This can also lead to stomach ulcers. Proper housing, free movement and social contact prevent chronic stress in horses. A good feed policy with a lot of roughage is also part of this.

Conclusion: Optimal management in lean horses

Do you have a lean horse? Then the most important thing is that he gets (almost) unlimited roughage of good quality, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Stay away from grain products as much as possible, which disturb the acidity of the stomach and intestines, which increases the mineral requirement. So start with the roughage and do not immediately reach for fatteners. In addition, ensure healthy teeth, a good deworming policy and suitable housing with sufficient free movement and friends. Is your horse staying too thin? Then look for other underlying causes and consult the vet if necessary.

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