Clinical guidance on feeding underweight horses

Redwings is delighted that Nicky Jarvis, our Head of Veterinary Care and Senior Veterinary Surgeon, is one of the authors of a chapter in the latest edition of ‘Veterinary Clinics of North America’, a widely respected academic publication.  

As the UK’s largest horse sanctuary, Redwings specialises in the care of senior equines and is passionate about ensuring all our residents are supported to enjoy a good quality of life for as long as possible. Nicky is at the heart of this ethos, leading a team that combines exceptional scientific knowledge with unwavering dedication to meeting the individual needs of more than 500 veteran horses at the sanctuary.

Nicky co-wrote ‘Nutritional considerations when dealing with an underweight adult or senior horse’ with a professor of large animal internal medicine at the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Their comprehensive insights were published in April as part of the Veterinary Clinics edition focusing on equine nutrition. The chapter outlines some of the many clinical considerations involved in addressing weight loss in adult horses, seen most commonly in older equines.

While weight loss can be a common issue for older equines, it is vital not to see poor weight as an inevitable consequence of the ageing process. The paper explores multiple factors that can lead to loss of condition, and shows that a systematic approach is needed to diagnose, then treat or manage underlying causes.

The paper identifies dental disorders as one of the most common reasons for weight loss in adult horses. Other conditions with the potential to lead to weight loss range from arthritis, PPID (a disease affecting hormone regulation), internal parasites, liver disease and heart problems, to reduced ability to cope with winter weather, changing social dynamics in a group and neglect.

The document goes on to discuss diagnostic and treatment approaches along with feeding and management advice. Often small changes can make a big difference, such as offering food and water in raised bowls, increasing turnout, adding appetisers and splitting rations into more small feeds through the day.

Writing such a comprehensive text in addition to working very full-time at Redwings is no small achievement. However, as Nicky explains, she was determined to share the experience of supporting older horses she has gained during her many years at Redwings: “While weight loss is more common in older horses, it is not caused by age itself, and should be fully investigated and addressed as it would for a younger horse. There are many physical and psychological factors that can impact on body condition, but by identifying the underlying cause we can often introduce a treatment and/or management plan that helps the horse return to a healthy weight and continue to enjoy a good quality of life.”