Health Complications of Obesity
When we think of neglected or abused horses we can often picture them as underfed and malnourished. Did you know that obesity is in fact one of the biggest welfare concerns currently facing horses in the UK?
Studies suggest that more than half the population of UK horses are overweight or obese. More worryingly, studies suggest that many horse owners are not actually aware of the signs or complications associated with obesity. Carrying excess weight puts your horse at a much greater risk of developing other health complications. Therefore, it is important to frequently monitor your horse’s condition and take measures to prevent unnecessary weight gain.
Below are some of the most common health implications that can affect overweight equines:
Arthritis is a painful condition characterised by inflammation or swelling of the joints. Arthritis is a degenerative disease meaning that it will become progressively worse over time. Arthritis can result in decreased performance, lameness and may result in your horse’s ridden career coming to a premature end.
Overweight or obese horses are at a greater risk of developing arthritis as excess strain is put on their joints. These horses may benefit from a joint supplement to help support and maintain mobility in their harder working joints.
Although there is no known cure for arthritis, there are several measures which can be taken to help manage the condition. Losing weight is essential as this will lessen the strain that is being put on the joints.
Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a disease characterised by the inability to regulate blood glucose levels, very similar to Type 2 Diabetes in humans. Other complication of EMS include blood vessel inflammation, difficulties clotting blood and laminitis. Being overweight or obese puts horses at greater risk of developing EMS.
Symptoms of EMS include:
- Inability to lose weight
- Abnormal fat deposits on the shoulders and hind quarters
- Cresty neck
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urinations
- Frequent episodes of laminitis
Horses with EMS can be predisposed to developing Cushings disease, a hormone related disease effecting the pituitary gland. Horses with cushings disease are unable to regulate the hormones produced in the pituitary gland, resulting in a range of unpleasant symptoms. Horses with Cushings also tend to have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases. There is currently no known cure for Cushings disease, however symptoms can be managed with medication.
Laminitis is a condition that is caused by dysregulation of the blood flow in the laminae - the strong elastic tissues which hold the coffin bone to the hoof wall. This causes inflammation which can lead to separation between the sensitive and insensitive laminae. In more severe cases this can result in rotation or collapsing of the pedal bone.
Although small structures, the laminae essentially allow the horse to bare weigh. This is why laminitis is more commonly seen in overweight horses and ponies. The likelihood of the laminae separating is much higher if the weight load is not reduced.
Symptoms of laminitis include:
- Heat in the hoof
- Bounding digital pulse
- Reluctance to move forward
- Shortened stride length
- Adopting a ‘sprawled out’ stance
Laminitis can be extremely painful, lead to unsoundness and in severe cases may require euthanasia. Any horse can develop laminitis, however the condition is more commonly seen in overweight horses and ponies as excess weight puts unnecessary strain on the laminae.
Laminitis has a high reoccurrence rate, meaning that once a horse has suffered from laminitis, they are highly likely to suffer from further episodes for the rest of their life. Unfortunately there is no cure for laminitis however symptoms can be managed.
Managing any of the above conditions can be expensive and time consuming. It is much easier (and more affordable) to prevent these conditions than it is to treat them. One of they key aspects to managing all of these conditions is weight management. We have included some of our top tips for keeping your horse in ideal condition:
- Regularly monitor your horses weight using a weigh bridge or weigh tape
- Carry out body condition scoring regularly
- Feed according to age, breed, build, health status and workload
- Review your horse's diet regularly and cut back on unnecessary calories
- Limit sugar and starch intake
- Promote weight loss gradually through the use of controlled exercise