Why does my horse loose weight during the winter?
It can be difficult for some horses to maintain good body condition through the winter. Many factors can contribute to the weight loss like poorer quality hay/forage available, bad teeth or missing teeth, and really cold weather. The bottom line is a negative calorie intake. The horse may need to burn more calories to stay warm if he doesn’t have an adequate hair coat or proper shelter to get out of bad weather. Combine that with fewer calories taken in and the result is weight loss.
Is this normal?
You should not accept this as normal. However, in severe circumstances, it may be unavoidable. For older horses, even a small amount of weight loss can be nearly impossible for them to fully recover. Here are some steps to take that may help prevent unnecessary weight loss during the winter. Before implementing any major changes, you should contact your veterinarian and get their recommendations. It may sound obvious, but always visually inspect your horses for changes in body condition. With the thicker hair coats, you should also put your hands on your horse to palpate for “ribbyness”. It can be visually deceiving what is under all that hair. Optimal body condition score should be 4-6 (on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being extremely fat).
How do I prevent my horse from loosing weight during the winter?
Provide shelter, like a run-in shed, when horses are kept outside.
Blanket older horses or those without a good, thick, winter hair coat
Provide the best quality hay/forage you possibly can
Consider your feeding program: you may need to increase the calories in the diet with additional grain, or vegetable oil.
Keep teeth in as good a shape as possible with regular checks and teeth floating
Regular examinations by your veterinarian
Keep deworming programs current and monitor fecal egg counts for effectiveness