Tips for Refeeding Malnourished Horses

Time, patience, and care are critical because full rehabilitation can take weeks, months, or even longer.

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Tips for Refeeding Malnourished Horses
Many horses with low body condition scores have received a poor-quality, inadequate diet for more than three or four months before becoming recumbent. | Photo: iStock
Since 2007, the number of horses arriving at humane shelters in low body condition (scores of 1 to 3 on the 9-point body condition scale) due to starvation has risen, said Rebecca Remillard, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN. Yet for the organizations and individuals that take on the task of rehabilitating these malnourished horses, there’s no collective refeeding plan to guide them.

Remillard, of Veterinary Nutritional Consultations Inc., in Hollister, North Carolina, described how to refeed starved, malnourished horses at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

How Does it Happen?

The most common cause of malnutrition is neglect or lack of owner finances or knowledge, Remillard said, not criminal abuse. At worst, an adult horse loses about 40% of body weight (BW) due to a complete lack of feed for 60 to 90 days. At this point, the horse can no longer physically support its own body weight becomes recumbent (unable to rise), and has a poor prognosis for survival. Most horses with low body condition score (BCS) receive a poor-quality, inadequate diet for more than three or four months before becoming recumbent.

Starting Point

When managing a malnourished horse, start by having the veterinarian conduct a physical exam. He or she will measure body weight, BCS, and blood parameters, and assess appetite

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Written by:

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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